Nokia chose the 6212 model, which debuted in 2008, specifically for this project because it is equipped with NFC technology but also because it is does not have a fancy touch-screen interface and is less likely to be stolen from DSI workers. "The security situation in Haiti, is not good," says Joseph "Jofish" Kaye, a senior research scientist and ethnographer at NRC. "The 6212 also has good battery life, going a week or more without needing to be recharged."
Knowing that the phones would need the right software to function properly, Kaye reached out to School of Public Health PhD student David Holstius, to whom he had been referred by a mutual friend. Kaye laid out the Haiti project to Holstius, who is researching low-cost sensing and mobile applications in the school's Environmental Health Sciences Division. Any software that Holstius wrote needed to function on the 6212, be straightforward to use and be inexpensive for DSI to manage moving forward.
Holstius chose an open-source messaging program called FrontlineSMS to manage text-messaged data sent by DSI workers from the field. He had heard of other aid organizations using successfully using FrontlineSMS to organize communications in Haiti following the earthquake, and he knew he could turn to the software's open-source community of users for support when needed.
For the cell phone itself, Holstius wrote an application that prompts the worker to scan a bucket's RFID tag; asks questions including, "Did the water test positive for chlorine?" and "How much chlorine did you sell [to the household]?"; records the results; and sends those results to DSI's back-end computers. "I also had to make sure the SMS would be queued in the phone's memory if there was no access to the network," he says. "Initially, Nokia's phones would drop SMS messages to be sent to DSI if the phones could not connect to the network. I had to write my own outbox."
When placed within four centimeters of an NFC tag, the Nokia 6212 device recognizes the signal and launches the application Holstius wrote. DSI tested a prototype messaging system last year that proved the system could work successfully despite the intermittent reliability of Haiti's utility and mobile phone networks.
Once in the hands of health workers, the mobile phones are expected to provide DSI with rapid feedback in a way that will help the organization identify families that need more intensive follow-up and allocate resources accordingly. "We're hoping that by incorporating cell phones we'll be able to better target the work that the health workers are doing and actually see greater adoption of the water-cleaning system," Ritter says. The automated system will also serve as a check on DSI health workers, ensuring they are in fact visiting families, given that they will be unable to complete their assignments without scanning bucket tags.
Kaye, who learned of DSI's challenges accurately collecting timely data in December 2009 while he was looking for potential projects to fund, initially secured $10,000 (including cash and 50 cell phones) from Nokia Research Center to assist DSI. More recently Nokia has provided an additional $24,500 to expand the project beyond its initial pilot phase. Kaye is hoping by next week to decide whether to stick with the 6212 handset as the project grows or to provide DSI with the newer C7 NFC-equipped handset, which has a touch screen. As the program progresses, Nokia will also have to decide whether to contribute some of its own more sophisticated data-management software to the applications that Holstius is writing.
Meanwhile, Haiti's Direction Nationale de l'Eau Potable et de l'Assainissement (DINEPA), the government's water and sanitation authority, has said that household water chlorination is a big part of its plan to combat cholera, Ritter says, adding that he wants DSI's work to be integrated with the government's efforts. "The cell phone project plays into that in that we're always looking for ways to optimize what we're doing," he says. "Right now, it's a matter of training the supervisors to take the initial phones out in the field. Ultimately, we want to get cell phones in the hands of all of the health workers distributing Gadyen Dlo."
View a slide show of images depicting Haitians gathering water