An app is keeping the doctor away, and helping fight malnutrition among kids in north Karnataka

Punnyavathi Gouli S March 20, 2017 5 min

Five-year-old Anandappa lives in a slum in Annigeri town of Dharwad district in north Karnataka. The son of daily wage labourers, the child was severely malnourished until a few months ago.

Field facilitators of Magu Nee Nagu, a malnutrition eradication programme, found Anandappa in early 2013 while conducting a door-to-door survey in the slum. They took the boy under their care and started providing him nutritional supplements and food and hygiene advice to his parents, all through an app. Today, Anandappa is on his way to recovery. The programme is run by the Hubbali-based Deshpande Foundation, which promotes social entrepreneurship.

Anandappa says he was so weak that he couldn’t attend school regularly or play with his friends. “I would always lie down as I didn’t have energy. But, after I started taking the supplements given to me by aunty and uncle (the field facilitators), I feel strong and have started being active,” says the boy. He’s doing well at school and wants to become a teacher when he grows up.

Anandappa (seen in this picture with his mother Tippamma) is on his way to recovery, thanks to the nutritional supplements and dietary advice he’s received from the Magu Nee Nagu field facilitators

The smile is back on his mother, Tippamma’s face. “We are illiterate and didn’t understand the importance of nutrition and hygiene until the field facilitators taught us how to keep our home clean. They gave us food supplements for Anandappa. They also told on how to take care of him when he was very weak. I am happy my son has is recovering and I’m sure he will only improve further,” she says.

The Magu Nee Nagu project, with the aid of a mobile app, has helped 3,450 children in Dharwad dist overcome malnutrition by taking simple, systematic measures  

The Magu Nee Nagu project, with the aid of a mobile app, has helped 3,450 children in Dharwad dist overcome malnutrition by taking simple, systematic measures. It was first piloted in Dhadwad in March 2014. ‘Magu nee nagu’, which is in Kannada, loosely translates into ‘child, you smile’.

According to this Business India report, nearly half of all children in India under three years of age are either underweight or stunted.

“It’s a digital India. Every household now has a smartphone. With this app, parents can keep track of their children’s health. It has helped scale up our programme,” says Rajabali Mangalgi, programme head of Magu Nee Nagu for Karnataka. The app has been developed by the Deshpande Foundation.

The app, SAM Check, enables doctors and healthcare workers to keep track of children’s health and nutritional status on a regular basis. It provides expert medical and dietary advice, and if required, prescribes medication and nutritional supplements. It recommends daily nutritional values for the children, based on which the field facilitators provide them with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) such as spirulina, and eeZeepaste, dry banana, ragi and peanut paste to supplement regular home-cooked food. It also suggests follow-up nutritional measures.

The app, SAM Check, enables doctors and healthcare workers to keep track of children’s health and nutritional status on a regular basis  

The eeZee peanut paste is distributed in packets weighing 92 grams, which provide 500 kcal of energy. The power food paste is made of peanut (30%), sugar (29%), milk solids (20%), vegetable oil (18%), emulsifier (E471), minerals, vitamins and antioxidants (E304, E306 and E472c). Each superfood spirulina capsule contains spirulina (500mg), protein (64%), carbohydrate (15%), minerals (10%), vitamins (5%), fat (5%) and over 100 other nutrients.

The project employs 25 field facilitators, who use the app to screen and identify malnourished children and track their progress. It has improved the health of more than 70% of the malnourished children in Dharwad, and 50% of people in the district are now aware of the effects of malnutrition on their children.

Akkifa, another malnourished child that the programme has helped

“This is an area where majority of the people are below the poverty line and can’t afford nutritious food. Magu Nee Nagu has helped us train people about hygiene and nutrition; it has also helped us identify malnutritioned children and track their progress,” says Indira Ashok Bhovi, an Anganwadi teacher in Gangadhar Nagar, Hubballi.

The app works like any other. The primary health center doctor simply has to download the app from Google Play Store and install it in her smartphone. Then, the doctor has to enter data about the malnourished child, create his/her health profile.

An Open Data Kit (ODK) is used to enter required data about the malnourished child, including the CDPO number, the village and street name, the child’s name, gender, age, mother’s name and contact number, father’s name and contact number, the child’s photograph, weight, height, MUC (middle upper circumferences) and the child’s birth weight, all of which are recorded and regularly updated. The profile can be accessed by entering the Child Development Project Officer’s (CDPO) number and the child’s name.

The app also enables field facilitators conduct surveys in the villages. Field executives use the app to feed in data — weight, height and nutrition levels of children — during field visits. The recorded data is then collated and organised to draw insights on the progress achieved.

The programme has helped 550 SAM kids progress to the next level — medium acute-malnourishment (MAM). Another 150 have jumped up to the normal nourishment level  

Rathna, a field facilitator of Magu Nee Nagu, says the app saves time and helps speed up the recovery process of malnourished children after the first intervention. It cuts down on paperwork and maintenance activities. And most importantly, it helps doctors access a child’s health record/history whenever the child is brought to a clinic.

Magu Nee Nagu is a collaborative project of the Women and Child Development Department and the Deshpande Foundation, supported by Tata Marcopolo Motors. The district collector had enlisted the help of the Women and Child Development Department and Tata Marcopolo in April 2014 to help eradicate malnutrition in Dharwad.

The programme has helped 550 SAM kids progress to the next level — medium acute-malnourishment (MAM). Another 150 have jumped up to the normal nourishment level.

While the former director of the Women and Child Development Department has been transferred and could not be reached, the present director, Deepa Cholan, declined to comment as she was unaware of the project details.

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Images: 101Reporters Pictures


The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India.

(Punnyavathi Gouli S is a Hubli-based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)