The Community Tablet, the World Bank and Mozambican government partner to combat cholera in rural Mozambique by empowering people through digital education and engagement
Fighting a treatable killer
Cholera is endemic in Mozambique, with outbreaks occurring every year for the past five years. These outbreaks can become even more acute during times of natural disaster. For example, in the wake of Cyclone Idai, there have been almost 1,500 reported cases of cholera. In these instances, governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have to set up emergency treatment centres to admit patients with particularly bad cases, which can be costly. This is despite cholera being a preventable disease. It was in this context that the World Bank financed the creation of the Mozambique Scientist of Tomorrow initiative, which was supported by the Mozambican Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education. The group was created to address pressing issues impacting rural Africa and included programmes designed to reduce the spread of cholera through improved education.
“Cholera is a highly treatable disease; in many cases it can be cured through simple rehydration. However, a lack of education on symptoms and how the disease is spread means it still kills between 21,000 to 143,000 people worldwide each year, with rural communities hit the hardest,” Sollange Matsinhe, project co-ordinator, Mozambique Ministry of Science and Technology explains. “Therefore, a key element to the cholera prevention project with the World Bank was education. Teaching people how the disease spreads, how they can look after themselves if they fall ill, and what they can do to help others can drastically improve patient outcomes and reduce pressure on health clinics. So we were keen to ensure the message got out to people in the most effective ways possible.”
Understanding the African reality
At first, the team tried to educate communities using traditional methods of education, such as handing out leaflets and delivering talks to villagers. However, explaining bacteria and mass infection, without physically demonstrating
what that looks like, was hard to do. As a result, the message wasn’t getting through to audiences and cholera cases continued to build up in health clinics. Dayn Amade, a local Mozambican entrepreneur, then approached the group offering an innovative new solution: The Community Tablet.
“Many of the communities we visit have high levels of illiteracy, which meant leaflets were ineffective. It was also hard to draw a crowd and hold their attention on such a seemingly complex topic. We had no way of knowing if our campaigns were understood or what part of the message was getting through to people,” Matsinhe continues. “The Community Tablet is completely unique; a digital school that can travel to the most remote of locations. It was obvious that the team really understood what we were trying to achieve and had experience of dealing with the everyday challenges of African life – such as bad roads, dust and extreme weather. We were very quickly convinced that this would make a big difference to the programme, and we were right.”
Doing it digitally
The Community Tablet team worked quickly, taking existing content around cholera prevention and repurposing it into a short animation. This helped to tell the story in a more accessible and engaging way. The Community Tablet also worked with anthropologists from Mozambique’s leading university, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, to customise the content to appeal to a range of communities, considering local customs, traditions and religions. This helped to ensure the message was delivered in a thoughtful and respectful way. The Community Tablet team then created an interactive digital quiz designed to test the knowledge of anyone who has seen the animation in order to gather feedback on what they’d understood. The content was delivered via a digital platform, displayed on LCD screens which were transported on the back of a trailer. This meant that the tablet could reach even the most remote communities.
“When we first saw The Community Tablet in action, we were excited,” Matsinhe enthuses. “They come into town and it’s a real party atmosphere, with music playing and dancing; people are drawn to it. They then see the video and take part in video conference Q&As with doctors to ask questions, then complete the quiz. There is a much stronger reaction from audiences than we ever saw from giving talks – particularly as the people on the screen look like them, it feels more familiar, like they are being taught by one of their own. The Community Tablet managed everything for us, from the content creation to the delivery and data collected; it was very slick and professional, we felt like we were in safe hands.”
Demonstrating campaign value
Over four months, The Community Tablet visited 15 communities, helping to reduce cases of cholera by 60%. This not only helped to save lives, but also reduced pressure on over-burdened health clinics, while driving down overall costs of community outreach and education programmes. The data gathered through the quiz game also helped to identify what parts of the message had been clearly understood and what people took away from what they had seen. This allowed the group to identify key areas for improvement, ensuring the message could be refined to increase the impact of future campaigns. It also allowed them to gather key demographic information, such as age, gender and location, to streamline reporting.
“Working with The Community Tablet really transformed how we do things. The reduced cholera rate truly speaks for itself – the digital approach clearly reached audiences in a way we’d been unable to previously,” adds Matsinhe. “They provided communities with a truly memorable experience. The feedback reports were also invaluable to quantify success and helped us identify demographic gaps in understanding, as well as see where common, easily rectifiable errors were being made.”
Projecting into the future
Following the successful completion of the cholera education project, the Mozambican government and World Bank have enlisting The Community Tablet to undertake other campaigns, such as vocational testing for students and wider digital literacy, with similar success.
“The Community Tablet is the ideal tool for educating rural communities and bridging the digital divide. From providing insight on how a campaign has been understood, to ensuring the information being disseminated is high quality, accurate and culturally respectful – The Community Tablet is a must. We would highly recommend the team,” Matsinhe concludes.
The Community Tablet is a digital platform, which runs on four to six large Samsung LCD screens, powered by solar panels transported by trailer (which can be attached to anything – from a motor vehicle to a donkey) – you can view a video of it in action HERE. Using animations and gamification, The Community Tablet, as well as working with anthropologists at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane – Mozambique’s leading university – delivers customised content that is relevant and familiar to local communities. This helps to increase engagement, while also collecting vital data to demonstrate how well a message has been understood. Since hitting the road in 2015, it has helped to educate over one million Mozambicans across 90 communities. It has also been used for other programmes, from everything from HIV and family planning education, to civic education around voting, and financial inclusion programs.