About Jordan deVos

Jordan deVos focuses on biotechnology and clinical research and tweets as Jordevos.

The New Cop in Town: Citizen COP Promoting Public Safety in India via ICT

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In recent years India has been marred by multiple high profile rape cases that have generated international backlash. The brutal 2012 rape and murder of a 23 year old medical student on a bus in Delhi sparked protests across India, and became a rallying cry for reform. The five men and one juvenile (17 ½ at the time) who perpetrated the attack had their arrests and convictions fast tracked. Additionally, India passed legislation which broadened the definition of rape and implemented harsher punishments. Unfortunately, little changed. Government figures from 2013 indicate that the reported incidences of sexual assault in Delhi more than doubled from the year before. This figure is not unique to Delhi. Nationwide, one Indian woman is raped every 20 minutes.

In the state of Madhya Pradesh, Home Minister Babul Gaur recently said of rape “Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.” Yet in this environment a tech company called Infocrats Web Solutions is working to directly improve the safety of citizens of Madhya Pradesh via their Citizen COP smart phone app. The basic premise of Citizen COP is that it facilitates communication between citizens and police, allowing for quicker and more accurate reporting of crime, as well as eliminating barriers when requesting emergency assistance. The local government and police forces of Madhya Pradesh need all the help they can get in promoting public safety, as Madhya Pradesh has the second worst crime rate in India.

Citizen COP boasts a variety of features, all of which promote public safety in a unique way.

Incident ReportingCitizen COP’s incident reporting functionality allows users to anonymously report illegal activity directly to the police. The reporting feature allows the user to supply the police pictures, videos, location data, and a description of the scene with the press of a few buttons. Talking to the police or reporting a crime can still be taboo in India. The apps’ anonymity allows the user to report an incident without facing the same backlash that could occur from reporting a crime in a traditional manner, thereby removing a major barrier.

Help Me (SOS)

The SOS feature empowers a Citizen COP user to call for help almost instantly. The user can open this feature simply by shaking their phone, shaving valuable seconds off the time it takes to call for help. It sends an SMS to a series of contacts, as well as to the local police. The message is preprogrammed with geolocation data, as well as a call for help.

e-LaxmanRekha

This feature is named after Lakshmana rekha, which refers to a strict line or principal. If that line is crossed, or principal broken, severe consequences can be expected. e-LaxmanRekha allows the user to map a boundary around themselves utilizing their smartphones’ mapping capabilities. To do so, the user selects several points on a map (like dropping a pin on Google Maps), which are connected with a line. This sets a geographical limit for the mobile device. If the device crosses this boundary, an SMS message will be auto-sent to contacts preloaded into the “Help Me” feature.

Additional features of Citizen COP include an in-depth directory of police contact information which is automatically sorted based on proximity to the police station, a live tracking GPS system which can enable family members to view the users’ location in real-time, and a notification system which provides news updates.

Empowering Citizens

While Citizen COP doesn’t work to address the underlying causes of violence against women in India, it can be a valuable tool in promoting public safety. Upendra Jain, of the Bhopal Police Department, published an official letter thanking Citizen COP. It read: “…Citizen COP has immensely empowered our citizens with enhanced awareness of security and safety measures. It has already started giving favorable results. I, on behalf of Bhopal Police, sincerely appreciate your concept, innovation, and successful implementation of ‘Citizen COP’ in our jurisdiction for the welfare of society as a whole.”

The app is currently available in the cities of Indore, Bhopal, and Jabalpur. Infocrats Web Solutions is planning to expand their Citizen COP service offering to the other major cities in Madhya Pradesh, and then regionally to other states. The app can be downloaded via the Apple App Store or via Google Play, where it has a 4.3/5 rating with over 1,000 reviews.

Jaroka is Expanding Healthcare Access in Pakistan with ICT

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For a nation whose healthcare system is chronically underfunded, Pakistan is all too familiar with disaster. In 2005, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake ravaged the country, killing over 79,000 people. In 2010, heavy monsoon rains triggered massive flooding which destroyed almost 2 million homes, yet Pakistan’s health expenditure that year was just 1% of its GDP. There simply aren’t enough medical personnel in Pakistan to meet demand during times of peace, let alone emergency situations. There are some estimates that up 70% of Pakistanis don’t see a doctor in their entire lifetime.

Jaroka Tele-healthcare

The UM Healthcare Trust, a hospital facility located in rural Mardan, has developed an mHealth system intended to connect rural Pakistanis with the both the daily and disaster healthcare that they need. The system, called Jaroka Tele-healthcare, was developed in tandem with Stanford University. Jaroka directly connects healthcare providers at the Mardan facility to specialists in Pakistan’s urban centers, as well as the United States. This connection allows for specialist review of complex cases without forcing the patient to travel.

Jaroka incorporates an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) into the UM Healthcare Trust system. The EMR allows all medical information, including all records, vital signs, prescriptions, and lab reports to be stored and managed online. These records can be readily accessed when consulting a specialist, or by a healthcare worker in the field.

Lady Health Workers

While there are very few trained doctors and nurses in Pakistan, there are over 110,000 Lady Health Workers (LHWs). LHWs are trained to provide preventative and curative health services to their neighbors, while using their peer status to navigate local customs and languages effectively. Utilizing Jaroka’s SMS enabled features, the LHWs can add new patients to the system, update disease records, search for patients via unique ID’s, retrieve patient history, and access a dictionary of terms. Prior to Jaroka, these capabilities were restricted to the hospital.

Quality care provided by LHWs reduces one of the largest barriers in the Pakistani healthcare system: cost. There is no national health insurance in Pakistan, and 78% of the population pay for their own medical expenses. With over half of Pakistan’s population living under the poverty line, low cost (or free) care provided by LHWs is the only option available. The tools Jaroka provides, used in combination with LHWs peer status, allow them to be efficient intermediaries between the community and the traditional healthcare system.

These intermediaries are even more critical during times of disaster, when the disconnect between hospitals and rural Pakistanis is magnified. One of Jaroka’s key features is a GIS mapping system which allows doctors to track the spread and incidence of diseases in real time. The disease data is received from LHWs in the field who send SMS updates for patients into the Jaroka Electronic Medical Record. From there it is uploaded into a Google Map, allowing real-time tracking. In a disaster scenario, this tool allows doctors to direct resources to areas with the most critical demand.

The Future

The value of Jaroka’s regional disease monitoring capability carries directly over into daily healthcare practice. Pakistan is currently battling a Polio crisis, and ranks fifth in the world for Tuberculosis disease burden. Jaroka provides the UM Health System with the capability to monitor disease trends in the Mardan region, and allocate resources to prevent outbreaks from turning into epidemics.

While Jaroka is currently only deployed in Pakistan’s rural Mardan region, the UM Healthcare Trust is working with the National Rural Development Program to extend mHealth platform throughout the Punjab province. To date, over 200,000 people have received care through Jaroka and the UM Healthcare Trust system.

The UM Healthcare Trust publishes their regional disease trends monthly via Twitter (@Jaroka).

Sinar Project: Promoting Governmental Accountability in Malaysia

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Malaysia has been governed by the same political party, Barisan Nasional, since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. Barisian Nasional’s policies, which strongly favor ethnic Malay’s, have begun to lose support among young and minority voters, culminating in the 2013 elections when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won the popular vote. Despite the polling results, and amid allegations of voter fraud, Ibrahim lost the election.

The 2013 elections were a high-level indicator of the systemic lack of transparency and accountability in the Malaysian political system. According to the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, Malaysia is in just the 37th percentile for “voice and accountability.” These measures indicate an individual’s ability to participate in selecting their government, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media.

The Sinar Project, an ISIF Asia award winning non-profit organization, is seeking to fill the void in governmental transparency and accountability in Malaysia via open-source technology. Sinar is producing platforms which help monitor all levels of government, from local municipalities to parliament.

Corruption Monitoring

In Ernest and Young’s 2013 Asia-Pacific fraud survey, almost 40% of respondents said that corruption and bribery are widespread in Malaysia. That figure is nearly double the average of the rest of the region. In order to bring awareness to the corruption of the Malaysian political system, Sinar launched their Accountable platform in 2012.

Accountable is a web application which actively tracks the people, issues, and organizations related to Malaysian corruption. The data is presented in a searchable, tab separated manner, allowing the Malaysian public to easily monitor the activities of, and allegations against, their elected officials. Sinar will soon add an additional monitoring feature to Accountable, indicating the status of individual cases, including data on the case out come (i.e. false allegation, money returned, and criminal charges brought).

A second anti-corruption tool that Sinar has developed is their Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) database. Corruption in the Malaysian construction industry is at a “serious level”, according to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Utilizing scrapers, the CIDB monitors and aggregates construction project data in real-time, producing a readable CSV document. The CIDB database provides detailed information on all public-private projects, including contact information for company directors, budgets, contractor details, and registration numbers.

Governmental Accountability

Sinar’s most advanced accountability project, AduanKu, was launched in January of 2014. The platform enables users to report problems (think potholes, faulty street lights, etc.) directly to their local municipalities. Problems can be reported through a web portal with a smartphone or computer, and an app-based platform is coming soon. Once a user submits a problem, AduanKu sends an official report via email to the relevant Council. These reports contain mapping info of the problem location, a detailed description, and photographs when available.

The local user is then able to monitor their council’s response, and utilize a feature in AduanKu to publicly comment on whether appropriate action was taken. This interaction makes local municipalities directly accountable to their taxpayers, with municipal performance data publicly available through AduanKu. The Subang Jaya Municipal Council, for example, has had 292 problems reported, fixing 115 of them. AduanKu is currently available in a limited number of municipalities, but Sinar plans to expand the service throughout Malaysia.

Sinar also has a variety accountability projects on the national scale. Their BillWatcher application enables Malaysian citizens to monitor the status of upcoming bills in both the national parliament and state assemblies. Their Malaysian Representatives project aims to provide citizens with background information on all members of Parliament, including contact information, work history, and known assets.

While these applications are informational in nature, they help create transparency in the Malaysian political system by educating the voting public about the actions of their elected officials. For a nation with a voter turnout of over 84%, this sort of transparency can go a long way to bringing about change.

All of the Sinar Project’s code is open source, and can be found on GitHub here.

Odd Jobber: Connecting Lahore’s Rickshaws with Mobile

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Lahore, a bustling metropolis of over 9 million people, is nestled just inside Pakistan’s Eastern border with India. For Lahore’s unskilled laborers, finding work on a consistent basis can pose a daily challenge. Often times that challenge has nothing to do with desire, ability, or work ethic, but simply a lack of available work. Despite boasting one of Pakistan’s stronger regional economies, hundreds of thousands of people in Lahore live well below the poverty line. Pakistan, as a nation, ranks 177th out of 228 with a GDP per capita of only $3,100 per person per year.

Ideacentricity, a tech-startup located in Lahore’s impressive Arfa Software Technology Park, has created an SMS based marketplace called Odd Jobber to help directly connect this workforce with the consumers who need their services. Ideacentricity’s founder Adnan Khawaja describes the Odd Jobber platform as a combination of oDesk for odd jobs and Uber for rickshaws.

Currently, Odd Jobber is primarily focusing on their rickshaw capacity. The average rickshaw driver in Lahore, of which there are over 120,000, spends a large part of their day actively searching for fares. During this period the rickshaw drivers aren’t generating any revenue, and are expending cash on fuel and other costs. This is period of inactivity is what Odd Jobber is designed to alleviate.

Consumers have three ways to interact with Odd Jobber. They can call, send an SMS to 8001 with a pick- and drop-off address, or book online here. Once the request has been submitted, an SMS in Urdu goes out to rickshaw drivers who are close by, and they respond via SMS with a bid. The consumer chooses their preferred bid, which will soon be accompanied by driver rating, and the rickshaw should be on-site within 10 minutes. The Odd Jobber interface empowers drivers with direct access to customers, enabling them to generate revenue for the entirety of their shift.

Utilizing an SMS based platform instead of smartphone technology (think Über) is critical to the potential success of Odd Jobber. The mobile penetration rate in Pakistan is approaching 80%, while only 7-10% of the population have a smartphone. Ideacentricity is working to incorporate a rapidly expanding mobile-banking service called easypaisa (Telenor) into the Odd Jobber platform. This will facilitate easy transaction flow, and allow consumers to pre-pay for services.

Ideacentricity is attempting to expand Odd Jobber organically within Lahore. On their website, the company is encouraging consumers to request areas in which they’d like service. Expanding in this manner ensures that they are offering services in high-traffic areas, leading to optimal utilization of the rickshaw driver’s time.

This efficiency also carries over into the Odd Jobber business model. While Odd Jobber was launched with the goal of creating positive impact for Pakistan’s unskilled labor force, Ideacentricity is a for-profit company. On every ride they organize, or job they coordinate, Odd Jobber charges an 8% fee. The fee is added in addition to the bid that the rickshaw driver places, and is carried over to the consumer, allowing the driver to take home the entirety of their bid. Khawaja estimates that within 3 years, Odd Jobber will provide 40,000 rickshaw drivers with a combined additional income of $86 million (5:30 mark in linked video). For a workforce averaging $5-$7 a day, that increase is significant.

If you are in the Washington, D.C. area and want to learn more about Odd Jobber, Adnan Khawaja will be giving a talk with Uber president Travis Kalanick at the Annual Fulbright Conference and Prize Ceremony on October 17.

You can also check out Odd Jobber on Facebook.

Improving Adolescent Sexual Health in Nepal with m4ASRH

m4ASRH

Child marriage rates in South Asia are the second highest in the world. Despite stiff penalties for marrying under the age of 18, including up to 3 years in prison, this trend holds true for Nepal. A recent survey performed by Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population showed that 41% of Nepalese women aged 20-24 were married before turning 18. The health impact of childhood marriage is significant. According the World Health Organization, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the second leading cause of death among 15-19 year olds globally.

Additionally, an estimated 26% – 38% of recent births in Nepal are from unintended pregnancies. In this region, women whose pregnancies are unintended are more likely to receive reduced pre and post natal care, resulting in negative health outcomes for both mother and child.

Taboos associated with sex and sexuality remain commonplace across Nepal. According to the Family Planning Association of Nepal, this results in a lack of subject specific teachers to teach sexual health in schools. If educational materials are present, they are often far out of date or in disrepair. Despite the lack of education, Nepalese adolescent pre-marital sex is increasing, creating a population vulnerable to HIV infection.

The Mobile Solution

The Nepali Health Ministry has taken a new approach to providing young people with sexual health and family planning education, launching an mHealth initiative called Mobile for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (m4ASRH).

The program, which got underway September 18, will reach out to at least 300,000 youth.

The m4ASRH initiative is performing four different types of outreach:

  1. On-Demand Information (Encyclopedia) – Adolescents will have access to an online encyclopedia, where they will be able to find the information and answers that they need, in a safe setting.
  2. Role Model Stories – Stories tailored specifically the adolescents’ age and gender which highlight the actions of role models will be sent. The recipient will have the capability to choose the path of the story and see different outcomes.
  3. Quizzes – To drive engagement and interaction, quizzes based on the content of the on-demand information and role model stories will be sent.
  4. Hotline – m4ASRH will provide adolescents with a hotline where they can talk directly to health care workers, allowing access to expert advice and guidance when needed.

There are several factors at play in Nepal that could help the m4ASRH initiative succeed. Despite being a mountainous country, Nepal boasts high mobile penetration. According to a September 2014 report from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (available here), over 83% of Nepal’s population are mobile phone users.

Additionally, there is a rising tide of support from within Nepal for family planning awareness. The m4ASRH initiative was launched by Khaga Raj Adhikari, Minister for Health and Population, on Nepal’s first National Family Planning Day in Kathmandu.