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Back in Malawi

I'm back in the warm heart of Africa as of two days ago. After recovering from the trip yesterday (which was a national holiday, too) I'm in the Baobab offices fooling with some of the newer ScanBand prototypes.

Since I'll only have Wi-Fi part of the time, my main blogging channel will again be twitter, the feed for which will shown at the top of the homepage until I get back.

Pretty interesting stuff going down here right now. Just an hour or two before I landed, Malawi dropped ties with Taiwan in favor of China. In the long run, it looks like the best financial situation for Malawi, which could receive $6 billion in aid (as opposed to a relatively much smaller amount from Taiwan). In the near term, though, the Taiwanese are pulling out fast, and that could leave clinics run by them in serious disarray until everything stabilizes. This will be a very difficult situation in the next weeks and months for the health-care sector.

Anyway, I'm staying as a guest in an awesome house here. My roommate is William Kamkwamba, known widely for his homemade windmill. He just got back from the US, too, and started school this morning. Wish him good luck!

That's the scoop for now. It's going to be a very busy 10 days, but I'm very glad and very grateful to be back here.

Thesis Abstract, Fall Midterm

Right now, in Malawi, there is a need to bring patients' physical measurements into accurate, long-term records. My idea is to channel these measurements into their system digitally. Through a suite of simple technologies, I will enable technicians to record arm, waist, hip, and head circumference quickly and reliably. These data will then feed directly into a database via Baobab's thin-client terminal appliances. By doing this, fewer errors in measurement and transcription will arise. Health care providers will have access to cumulative, permanent patient histories.

Patients' physical measurements will be read via a device called ScanBand. ScanBand consists of a thin strip of paper or flexible plastic, the majority of which is covered with a series of bar codes. Each bar code is printed with a specific height, such as 5 mm, and encodes length of the strip from the bar code itself to a cutout “window” at the end of the strip. By making a loop with the paper, technicians with a ScanBand can rapidly and accurately measure the circumference of several parts of the patient’s body.

My methodology thus far has been twofold. I am producing a series of working prototypes, in quick succession, and testing them on subjects to evaluate their ease of use, accuracy, and overall look and feel. I am also discussing these prototypes with stakeholders and other interested parties in Malawi and the United States. With each revision, I have taken this test data and applied the lessons learned to a new version of the ScanBand. As an integral part of this thesis, I am also preparing more rigorous evaluation tools that will be given to testers of the ScanBand to determine their overall level of satisfaction with versions of the band I create throughout this project.

Back in Action

Okay, here we go! Another semester is starting up, and I am busy. I'm taking 18 credits right now and teaching one class (CC lab) and co-teaching another (Community Media Design) with Karl Mendonca. Thesis fits in there too, plus another secret project I'm working on with a former teacher.

I've been doing some testing on barcode scanners, and it looks like I can get the one I just received from eBay to read off a number from a fairly crowded field of others on a strip where each is only 1 mm high. This could make an efficient length and circumference measuring device, once I test it more thoroughly. I present the larger idea in class Monday night, so feedback from that will be very helpful.

William Kamkwamba at TED Global

William is an amazing young man from Malawi who powered his home with a windmill of his own design. Check it out. Note that, though it's hard to see in the video, he got a standing ovation from the crowd.

Testing Out Drivel From Malawi

Hey, all! As you've noticed, posts have slowed to nearly nothing on this blog--but that doesn't mean I'm not blogging! Check out the lively OSI Fellows blog to see what Chuck, Eric, Jon, Linh, and I are up to.

I'm about half way through my stint in country. I'll be heading up north to Mzuzu and should be taking lots of pictures. Be sure to check the OSI blog on Thursday to see what I've posted.

Also, I'm trying out a new piece of software called Drivel. I like it because I can work offline and write, rather than having to spool up the interface from the web. Connections are flaky and slow here, so it's a good tool to have in my kit.

Malawi or Bust

Almost exactly five hours until chocks away! Staying up all night getting my stuff together and generally trying to wear myself out so I can sleep on the plane.

I'll be working for the Malawi Health Equity Network as part of my fellowship with the Open Society Institute's Public Health Program. I'll be doing a variety of design work in country for the next month, with more work for several months thereafter.

Off to the Warm Heart of Africa I go!

Copyright Mike Edwards 2006-2009. All content available under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, unless otherwise noted.

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