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IntraHealth International announced today the acquisition of Switchboard, an award-winning California-based nonprofit organization. Switchboard’s promising mobile phone-based model for low- and middle-income countries joins ministries of health, private mobile phone companies and health workers to improve real-time access to critical information and peer-to-peer communication.
IntraHealth partners with countries to build sustainable, country-led health systems with a focus on strengthening the health workforce so all people have access to qualified health workers. This new acquisition will leverage IntraHealth’s mission, expertise and global footprint to create the largest network of digitally connected health workers in Africa.
“The Switchboard model of developing innovative public-private partnerships and leveraging existing technologies to connect health workers and health officials throughout the country makes Switchboard a natural and exciting addition to the tools we can offer to countries to improve health services,” says Pape Gaye, president and CEO of IntraHealth.
Switchboard joins IntraHealth’s suite of health sector technologies, all of which improve access to information for policy-makers, managers, health workers and clients as they make critical health care decisions. The IntraHealth-developed iHRIS is the leading open source platform for human resource information systems; it now supports more than one million health worker records in 19 low- and middle-income countries.
Isolated rural health workers often practice with minimal equipment and support, but nearly all now carry mobile phones. Switchboard builds software to register health workers’ mobile numbers and then connects them to colleagues and the larger health system through messaging platforms and free calling networks. These services, along with nationwide phone directories of health workers, allow practitioners to receive information, guidance and advice when they need it most, while also supporting government efforts to track diseases and manage potential epidemics.
The innovative partnerships with Vodafone and MTN launched free nationwide calling networks among ministries of health, health facilities and health workers in Tanzania, Ghana and Liberia, while also generating revenue for telecom partners. The approach has gained attention for its ability to reduce cost barriers, encouraging health workers to collaborate, make patient referrals, expand their professional knowledge and coordinate during emergencies. The model has already been used to network 2,200 doctors in Ghana and 181 doctors in Liberia.
Eric Woods, Switchboard’s cofounder and former chief executive officer, was named one of the Top 11 Innovators in mHealth in 2011 by the mHealth Alliance and Rockefeller Foundation and a Rainer Arnhold Fellow in 2012. The company launched start-up projects in Ghana, Liberia and Tanzania with support from individuals and foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, Google.org and Mulago Foundation.
“With more than 35 years in health service delivery and software supporting records for over one million practitioners, IntraHealth is the global leader in health worker information management, the critical backbone of Switchboard’s model,” Woods says. “We’re thrilled to offer IntraHealth an innovative extension into mobile and health service delivery, made possible by an acquisition that was our most effective path to remarkable scale.”
IntraHealth will launch its first application of the Switchboard model in Tanzania, where the system will build on a program initiated by Switchboard with Tanzania’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Vodacom Tanzania and the Medical Association of Tanzania to connect all of the country’s more than 34,000 health workers. Through this partnership, IntraHealth’s two decades of experience in the country will expedite the system’s adoption and scale-up.