18 May 2016 – The international charity Lepra, is using mobile phones to help change lives.

Lepra works on the ground in India, Bangladesh and Mozambique tackling leprosy and other neglected diseases like lymphatic filariasis and malaria.

They have put together a standard questionnaire and used innovative technology to make the surveys and the findings available worldwide on mobile phones. This means that those working in Lepra’s projects are now able to collect vital information that has never before been gathered on such a scale. It’s these new facts and figures that are impacting the ways in which the 92 year old charity transforms lives today.

Sarah Nancollas, chief executive of Lepra, said: “This new way of data collection sounds so simple but it is having a huge impact. We are able to refocus our work and meet the need more aggressively. Overall, access to this data is allowing us to learn, improve and change more lives.”

The survey asks individuals the same questions regardless of location and identifies key statistics such as how many days of school are lost due to leprosy, how many of those with the disease are children and how severely leprosy affects income. This crucial information is leading Lepra to improve the way they are delivering help and support.

One finding revealed high figures of misdiagnosis of leprosy in certain areas within the state of Odisha in India. In reaction to this, Lepra is looking to provide more health education sessions for government health workers in those specific areas so they can detect cases earlier. Similarly, Lepra will be implementing a public health awareness campaign so that the general public will be more aware of the symptoms and availability of treatment.

“This information is allowing us to see where the need really is and identify what more we can be doing to help those affected by neglected diseases,” said Nancollas.

Other findings showed that discrimination of those with a neglected disease is more prevalent within families than expected. Lepra now knows that more needs to be done to reduce stigma around disease and, as a result, they will be continuing their health education activities among communities. The charity can now also see how many days of work are lost due to disease. To combat this Lepra provides skills training and helps advocate for disability grants.

The information is also proving to be a useful tool in allowing the charity to assess the impact they are having in transforming lives given that leprosy, and the diseases Lepra work in, affect the poorest and most excluded.

Having been piloted by Lepra’s staff in a few selected projects this year, the data collection method will now be rolled out across the rest of their work in Bangladesh, India and Mozambique. 

The innovative use of free software and some internal crafting of questions has allowed Lepra to process this at low cost. Further funding for the mobile phones and training will allow the charity to scale this further.

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