2009.08.04: August 4, 2009: Headlines: COS - Namibia: Internet: Computers: IT: Ahwatukee Foothills News: Rashid Khan improves health care in Namibia through text-messaging service

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Namibia: Peace Corps Namibia : Peace Corps Namibia: Newest Stories: 2009.08.03: August 3, 2009: Headlines: COS - Namibia: Internet: Computers: IT: Arizona Republic: Rashid Khan and Jennifer Moore have developed an interactive healthcare software program for Namibia : 2009.08.04: August 4, 2009: Headlines: COS - Namibia: Internet: Computers: IT: Ahwatukee Foothills News: Rashid Khan improves health care in Namibia through text-messaging service

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Rashid Khan improves health care in Namibia through text-messaging service

Rashid Khan improves health care in Namibia through text-messaging service

During his service, Khan has spent most of his time playing with kids and supervising students in his small computer lab. "The HER program was kind of a part-time thing that took off," Khan said. HER was originally a fully-automated database of pre-written content but has now evolved into a pool of 12 volunteers, who personally answer diverse sexual health questions. "We quickly figured out that a fully-automated system could only answer the most basic questions, things most people already knew," Khan said. He heard about the Birds and the Bees Text Line based in North Carolina that used volunteers to answer complex sexual health questions, and decided to build off the idea. "From what I understand, they only have one person at a time answering the line," Khan said. "I figured there was a better way and wrote the software to distribute questions in a round-robin fashion to a pool of volunteers all over the country automatically." Users send their text messages to a central computer server that automatically divides up the messages and sends them to the volunteers' mobile phones. The volunteers send text messages with the answers to the server where they are then routed back to the asker.

Rashid Khan improves health care in Namibia through text-messaging service

Ahwatukee resident improves health care in Africa through text-messaging service
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August 04, 2009 1:46 PM
By Christina O'Haver
Special to AFN

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Rashid Khan, 26, began his two-year service in the Peace Corps in October 2007 and has since done more than his part to improve health care in Namibia, Africa, through mobile phone-based SMS, or text messaging.

The Mountain Pointe High School graduate decided to join the Peace Corps because "it sounded like fun," he said.

He has spent his entire service in Namibia, a fairly large country in Africa with a very small population. Namibia is the least densely populated nation after Mongolia.

"It is a well-developed country by African standards with a stable government and well-maintained transportation and communication infrastructure," Khan said. "However, despite the appearance of a high GDP, it has one of the world's largest income divides."

Minimum wage jobs in Namibia pay around $3 a day but unemployment is estimated at around 60 percent, Khan said.

He has gained patience during his experience and has made friends from all over the world, but Khan has also provided the people of Namibia with access to health care information literally right at their fingertips.

Khan started the Health Education Response software in February with Peace Corps volunteer Jennifer Moore of Gillette, Wyo.

During his service, Khan has spent most of his time playing with kids and supervising students in his small computer lab.

"The HER program was kind of a part-time thing that took off," Khan said.

HER was originally a fully-automated database of pre-written content but has now evolved into a pool of 12 volunteers, who personally answer diverse sexual health questions.

"We quickly figured out that a fully-automated system could only answer the most basic questions, things most people already knew," Khan said.

He heard about the Birds and the Bees Text Line based in North Carolina that used volunteers to answer complex sexual health questions, and decided to build off the idea.

"From what I understand, they only have one person at a time answering the line," Khan said. "I figured there was a better way and wrote the software to distribute questions in a round-robin fashion to a pool of volunteers all over the country automatically."

Users send their text messages to a central computer server that automatically divides up the messages and sends them to the volunteers' mobile phones. The volunteers send text messages with the answers to the server where they are then routed back to the asker.

The volunteers have received extensive Peace Corps training on a broad range of sexual health topics and other information specific to issues affecting the people of Namibia.

The conversations are tracked and logged, broken down into keywords and themes, and graphed by popularity. Khan said most of the questions center around pregnancy, HIV and condoms.

"You don't have to talk to many people before you see there are some large misconceptions about condoms, pregnancy, circumcision and other topics contributing to the 18 percent HIV infection rate," Khan said.

HER has processed as many as 360 text messages to and from clients in a single day. In June, the volunteers exchanged 2,382 text messages with 325 clients.

Khan said Africa is well-covered by cell phone service, with over 300 million active mobile phone users.

Namibia only has about 2 million users but MTC, the nation's largest mobile provider, recently reached one million pre-paid packages sold.

Users of MTC's pre-paid service can send 100 text messages a day for five cents. Phones can be purchased for less than $20, and come with $10 of pre-paid credit.

"Imagine how long that lasts if you do nothing but SMS, which is fairly common," Khan said.

HER is partnering with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been working to fight HIV in Namibia, to expand reach and build sustainability into both the software and the current implementation.

Khan will complete his service in mid-January and then will spend about four or five months backpacking up the East Coast of Africa before his return to Ahwatukee Foothills.

"I'm really, really proud of Rashid, and more than that really Rashid should be proud of himself for all of his accomplishments and everything that he's done in the Peace Corps," said Joy Gallagher, Rashid's mother and former Peace Corps volunteer herself. "It's been a wonderful adventure for him and I'm also glad that we can share the experience of being return Peace Corps volunteers together."



Christina O'Haver is interning this summer for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.





Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: August, 2009; Peace Corps Namibia; Directory of Namibia RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Namibia RPCVs; Internet; Computers; Information Technology





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Story Source: Ahwatukee Foothills News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Namibia; Internet; Computers; IT

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