​By David Kelly | University Communications

AURORA, Colo. – The Colorado School of Public Health announced Wednesday that it will receive $100,000 for an innovative new vaccine program through Grand Challenges Explorations, created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to enable individuals worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges.

Edwin Asturias, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics and director for Latin America at the Center for Global Health, part of the Colorado School of Public Health,  is the principal investigator on the project entitled, `Short Messaging Service (SMS) Mobile Technology for Vaccine Coverage and Acceptance in Guatemala.’

Grand Challenges Exploration funds scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to explore ideas that can solve global health and developmental challenges. Asturias’s project is one of six Grand Challenge Explorations II grants announced today.

“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact.”

Applications for the current round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.

The Colorado School of Public Health’s project aims to improve immunization rates in Guatemala by testing a new mobile phone system that sends periodic text reminders to mothers or custodians of infants when it’s time for their vaccinations.

Immunization rates in many parts of Guatemala are below the acceptable 80 percent reported at the national level for DPT3 (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) and measles vaccine. Many babies do not get immunized on time and completion of the recommended series of inoculations does not reach 70 percent of eligible infants by the time they are a year old. One major reason for this is a lack of reminders.

Yet despite being a largely low-income country, there are at least 15 million mobile phones for a population of 14 million. Four of out of five Guatemalan families have cell phones. Asturias hopes to tap into this communications infrastructure as a way to reach millions of people and boost immunization rates. His project would allow health care workers to enter a child’s immunization record into a cloud-based information system augmented by text alerts going out to parents and caretakers to bring their children in for scheduled vaccines. They would also be regularly texted and asked if there were adverse reactions to the vaccinations.

Asturias said the time was right to use the latest communications technology to promote worldwide public health.

“Vaccines are among the most successful, preventive technologies of our time, saving the lives of millions of children every year,” he said. “So how we reach every child and sustain confidence in vaccines is of paramount importance. Using emergent mobile technology in developing countries may allow us to reach many more children and increase critical interaction between health care workers and families.”


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