Socket Barcode Scanners Help Humanitarian Groups

Posted April 23, 2010

Socket SoMo 650

By MICHELLE MAN

When you think of adopters of mobile technology, charities may not immediately come to mind, but Socket is seeing a rising number of international humanitarian organizations that deploy our mobile solutions. Some government agencies in the U.S. have also begun using Socket devices in their international relief work.

Businesses in healthcare, hospitality, and other industries usually choose to implement mobile technology as a way to eliminate inefficient paper-based processes, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are no different. Humanitarian organizations typically need to collect a lot of data from beneficiaries to assess people’s needs, measure the effectiveness of programs, and ensure the fairness of aid distribution.

Most NGOs generate high volumes of paperwork by collecting data in handwritten forms, which clerks need to transcribe into a spreadsheet or database. Adopting mobile technology enables organizations to spend less time in administrative paperwork, thus allowing them to serve more people and/or improve the quality of aid while also improving accountability to donors, board members, and other parties. Many NGOs are also involved in research studies or complex logistical operations which greatly benefit from mobile computing and data collection technology.

The Task Force for Global Health, based in Decatur, Georgia, uses Socket bluetooth barcode scanners in its program to eradicate lymphatic filariasis (also known as elephantiasis), a parasitic, disfiguring disease that afflicts more than 120 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of permanent and long-term disability in many tropical countries.

Health workers use Socket barcode scanners with GPS receivers and PDAs or laptop computers to track mosquito specimens as well as to scan wristbands and blood/urine samples while visiting households, schools or other sites within a community.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lymphatic Filariasis Elimination Project is a joint effort with a large government agency, which, in a separate program, has also deployed SoMo 650 handheld computers and Socket Bluetooth barcode scanners to conduct similar field work for malaria and meningitis.

Several of the agency’s research partners have also deployed the SoMo 650 as part of the malaria prevention and control program, including Savannas Forever Tanzania, an organization dedicated to saving wildlife in Tanzania by addressing public health and poverty in local communities, PSI, a leading global health organization, and RTI International, one of the top research institutes in the world.

The Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland has deployed at least 30 units of the SoMo 650® handheld computer and Socket barcode scanners to conduct nutrition surveys amongst the children of certain ethnic populations in Honduras who have higher risk for anemia. Community health workers, under the guidance of a registered dietitian, are researching the nutrition levels of Honduran foods, assessing the nutritional needs of children and scoping the prevalence of anemia, using a solution developed by Western Reserve Systems Group, a business and technology integration specialist based in Hudson, Ohio.

For global aid organizations that serve in developing countries, a common challenge is how to deploy technology in communities that have no electricity or where electricity is unreliable. For this reason, laptop computers are often inappropriate — usable for only a few hours on battery power in typical field applications — making PDAs ideal.

Humanitarian organizations are choosing the SoMo 650 because it provides the durability that many aid workers require in the field, costs much less than industrial or military-grade handheld devices, and provides long battery life as well as power management features and can be enhanced with an extended battery and portable battery pack.

In Australia, engineers from the Intelligent Sensors, Sensor Networks and Information Processing (ISSNIP) Research Network at the University of Melbourne, in conjunction with the Nossal Institute for Global Health and with funding from Microsoft Research, have developed a low-cost ECG monitor based on the SoMo 650 handheld computer which enables health workers in developing countries to accurately diagnose cardiovascular disease, even in remote locations where electricity is unreliable or unavailable. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in developing countries, but many hospitals cannot afford commercial grade ECG equipment. Inventors minimized costs by creating electrodes out of affordable, readily available materials, such as scrap metal and rubber from bicycle inner tubes. Already, hospitals and universities in Mozambique have expressed great interest in the system.

This year, medical teams from Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization, used Socket portable battery packs in Haiti to power medical equipment in their earthquake relief efforts.

In Bangladesh, Save the Children is working to reverse high rates of child mortality in the city of Barisal by providing prenatal care and monthly rations of nutritious foods such as vitamin A fortified cooking oil, whole wheat, and dried lentils to both the mother and child for two years after the child’s birth.

To ensure the safety of its food distribution program, the organization has deployed 150 PDAs with Socket plug-in barcode scanners, which are used to scan barcoded registration cards given to mothers enrolled in the program. The technology successfully validates the identity of 360,000 beneficiaries per month at 336 commodity distribution points and more than 1,036 health centers. The Barisal food program is only one of Save the Children’s many PDA deployments in at least 17 countries around the world.

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