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Chitra: Supporting localized healthcare provision by community health workers using a mobile mapping and visualization tool

Mobile platform for health workers to map community environments and disease incidence. Leverages machine learning for contextualized care.

Photo of Azra Ismail

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Around 1,000,000 community health workers (CHWs) collect demographic, environmental, and medical data across India, using paper forms. Despite huge efforts to collect data in the first place, this data is frequently underutilized. There is a huge scope for (1) digitizing the data collection process, and (2) analyzing collected data to help healthcare providers deliver personalized care to communities. Particularly, low-resource communities that rarely access hospitals and clinics could benefit greatly from targeted interventions.

To meet this need, we propose Chitra - a mobile application that (1) helps community health workers (CHWs) collect hyperlocal data through map annotations, and (2) builds community profiles by applying machine learning on collected data. This can help CHWs and healthcare providers provide personalized care to communities.

Health and health-seeking behaviors are a product of environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural factors. Recording and understanding these location-based factors (planet) can help develop health interventions that take into account these aspects and community resources. This can result in improved health outcomes, particularly among underserved communities that are most affected by their surroundings (prosperity).

How does it work?
We build upon existing open source mapping tools such as Local Ground and ODK to enable hyperlocal data collection using map annotations. We aggregate collected data based on location and then apply machine learning algorithms to help identify communities that are at risk of disease and the underlying factors that may be responsible for the threat. User-friendly insights are presented as community profiles to health providers such as doctors, community health workers, and policymakers to help them make data-driven decisions. The project thus leverages and supports healthcare providers' existing competencies and deep understanding of local communities.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

For the timeline of this project, our beneficiaries are residents of slums along the Yamuna river in South-East Delhi. A major goal of the project is prolonged engagement between communities and health workers. Health workers in the area routinely visit communities once every 4-5 months for data collection. Apart from that, they only visit for maternal and child health because there is little structure and support for other health interventions. We hope to deliver this support and encourage health activism by providing health workers a means of monitoring and addressing community health including risk factors of disease.

We will open source the developed mobile application at the end of the project so that other communities may benefit from it. Additionally, we hope to scale our efforts in India in partnership with more community health workers as well as health organizations for whom data collection is a primary effort.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Current players in this space are global organizations such as Medic Mobile, DHIS2, Dimagi, and Nafundi. All of these are data collection companies with a particular focus on working with community health workers. However, current efforts to analyze collected data rarely go beyond recording disease outbreak and service coverage. This results in underutilization of rich collected data despite massive efforts to obtain them in the first place.

Our core competency lies in the use of machine learning techniques to provide customized care. We go beyond current efforts that are focused on data collection to also analyze the collected data and make hyperlocal disease predictions and healthcare delivery recommendations. We thus complement and build upon existing efforts. We also follow a human-centered approach---working closely with health workers on the ground and understanding their current data workflows and work priorities to be able to leverage and support them meaningfully.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

The core work on the project is being carried out by the Chitra organization. Website:

It is being developed and deployed in collaboration with the Technology and Design for Empowerment (TanDEm) lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Website:

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we plan to register in the future.
  • No, but we are a formal initiative through a university.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

From May to August 2016, we conducted ethnography in an underserved region of Delhi. Our goal was to gain a ground-level perspective on private and public healthcare infrastructure. Through interviews and observations, we found a major disconnect between patients and healthcare providers. Health was often a product of circumstances (environment, culture, economics) unknown to healthcare providers. This motivated Chitra, which aims to deliver healthcare providers a picture of target communities.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

In the underserved communities targeted by Chitra, health is often an outcome of community surroundings. This includes the physical environment, which slum residents are exposed to in their open and close dwellings (e.g. the polluted Yamuna river). It also includes the cultural backdrop where certain unhealthy practices may be culturally acceptable (e.g. tobacco chewing and open defecation) and healthy practices may not be part of daily life (e.g. hand washing and institutional deliveries). It also includes infrastructure (e.g. electricity, water, and sanitation) and social context (e.g. community support). Thus, health is closely tied to Planet.

Prosperity is directly affected by health. Poor health results in lost days of work and decreased productivity. In the target context, families frequently slip into debt because of health issues and often forgo visiting a hospital or clinic in favor of work and money in the pocket. Hence, non-clinical alternative interventions are needed.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We are closely working with community health workers and slum communities in Delhi on this project. We follow an iterative process, taking input from health workers on the functionality, design, and appropriateness of our proposed intervention. We make them primary stakeholders and privilege their superior understanding of local communities.

So far, we have conducted participant observation with community health workers to better understand their interactions with local communities and the challenges they face. From January to May 2018, we deployed an initial data collection prototype with 5 community health workers and 600 slum residents. The collected data is being analyzed and preliminary machine learning algorithms have been developed. In February 2018, we also conducted 2 co-design sessions with 17 community health workers for the mobile application. Using insights we gained during the co-design process, we have developed an initial design for the mobile application.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Some of the strengths that we have identified in the community include close-knit relationships with community health workers, strong support networks among community members, and activism of local mosques which often hold local gatherings and announcements.

Geographic Focus

This particular project will target underserved slum communities in South-East Delhi, India.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

31 months
We will first conduct co-design exercises with CHWs to determine appropriate visualizations and modalities for mapping and presenting community health profiles (3 mths). Using these insights, we will develop a mobile mapping application (4 mths). After training (1 mth), we will carry out mapping exercises with 20 CHWs and 20,000 people (4 mths). We will tune machine learning algorithms (4 mths). Finally, we will monitor healthcare provision activities during deployment (15 mths).

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of bikash gurung

Hi Azra Ismail , thanks for sharing your wonderful idea. Your idea looks promising and have a large impact bracket. Would love to learn little more about what are the features of the Mobile app you are developing? Are you planning to take this mobile as a product for business or as a service? From your idea above, I can see indirect bridge between Planet and Prosperity. Are there any direct bridges.
One thing I'd recommend is checking out the Challenge Brief ( and Evaluation Criteria ( if you haven't had a chance yet. Only registered organizations are eligible for the Prize funds. If you are not a registered organization, there are a couple options. We've seen teams seek out partner organizations to submit with. You are also welcome to participate in the Challenge and connect with other innovators and receive feedback for your proposal, even if you have not intention to register your organization at this point.

Photo of Azra Ismail

Hi Bikash,

Thank you for your comment and for the links! Some of the features of the mobile application, as requested by our partner community health workers, include:
1) Flexible data collection using map annotations and forms
2) Aggregated community profiles with demographic, health, and environmental data and suggestions for health interventions to carry out
3) Generated disease and risk factor maps
4) Progress bars for task management such as data collection, health interventions, immunizations, antenatal care visits, etc, including community-specific coverage and not just aggregate data

I'm not quite sure what you mean by this question - "Are you planning to take this mobile as a product for business or as a service?". We're planning to register as a non-profit in the near future, if that is what you were asking. The mobile application will be offered as a product to interested parties and we will work with them to deploy and manage it within their communities.

The bridges I see this project directly affecting are Planet and Prosperity, as well as the relationship between the two. Chitra aims to have a direct impact on health outcomes, helping communities live more prosperous lives. It also aims to affect the physical and cultural environment, including sanitation, water quality, lack of health infrastructure, religious or cultural taboos, and more. While the changes to Planet are carried out with the intention of improving health, they are very much direct outcomes expected from the project. We expect that interventions which are seen as having a direct consequence on a community will be more likely to garner community support and to be executed. We also expect this model to be more sustainable and comprehensive over the long term, over single-focus projects such as one-off cleanups carried out in the area.

For instance, a health worker who knows and has on record (on the app) that malaria in a community is being propagated by the stagnant water, can now inform local authorities to take action and also motivate the community to fill this in with sand. This addresses the root problem and goes beyond the current approach of recording malaria cases and referring patients to local clinics (where community members may not agree to go). Currently, there is a lack of a medium for collecting and presenting such information in a user-friendly way so that health workers have the legitimacy and power to affect such outcomes. This is what Chitra tries to address.

Regarding funds, I am not sure if universities are eligible to receive prize funds as part of this competition, but if they are, then that may be a suitable route. Otherwise, we will seek out partner organizations as you suggested. We are also very interested in registering our organization. Currently, we are operating on a tight budget using personal funds and our impact is local, hence the lack of registration.

This is a rather long-winded answer to your questions but I hope it addresses them!

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Azra Ismail this additional information is very helpful! Universities are able to receive prize funds in the challenge. I think what bikash gurung might be asking about is do you see your self as the team who makes the technology and sells it and works with implementing partners or as the team that provides all the services and support for the program to run and be successful? Also curious, if everything were to go according to plans what would be your big vision for potential impact 5 years from now for this project?

Photo of Azra Ismail

Hi Ashley - Thank you for clarifying! We see ourselves primarily as the team that builds the technology and sells it to organizations. These could be organizations that either perform data collection (such as health organizations and local governments) or develop technology for data collection (organizations such as Dimagi, Medic Mobile, and DHIS2). The former allows for more flexibility in terms of technology implementation while the latter allows for scale. We would provide technical and material ground-level support for training community health workers in data practices and technology use to make the most out of the mobile application, as well as support for deployment, but not human resources.

At the moment though, we are also performing the grassroots work of organizing health workers, training them, arranging for mobile phones, etc. We are able to do this because this is a community that we are highly familiar with and have worked with for a while. However, we think that more generally, deployment would be better facilitated by technology partners and organizations already familiar with the communities and used to carrying out interventions.

My big vision is for Chitra to be a more robust and involved system for organizing, facilitating, and evaluating community health interventions globally. In five years, I would love to see this being used at the scale of DHIS but at the hyperlocal level! DHIS has allowed for the organization of health information at the district level, particularly with local health program officers and primary healthcare clinics. I would like to similarly see those doing the ground-level work---community health workers---more involved and engaged in their communities and better equipped to serve community needs.

Also, at a global level, barring data concerns and boundaries (which are high), the possibilities for comparing and learning from data across state and national boundaries for better policy and interventions are numerous!



Photo of bikash gurung

Thanks Azra Ismail , thanks for the additional information. Best Wishes :)

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