The automated calling system The Ammi Service might be the answer to the prayers of thousands of women in Pakistan. In a country which holds the highest maternal and infant mortality rate — as per the 2014 United Nations Population Fund report — The Ammi Service aims to make critical maternal healthcare information available to all via cellular service.
Tackling one of Pakistan’s greatest challenges, the programme has been developed by Ammi, a Toronto-based team that competed in the Pakathon Global Finals 2015 held at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. The team — comprising Amina Zaheer, Mian Mansoor Ahmad, Israa Nasir, Kamil Shafiq and Winnie Sun — emerged victorious and has earned an ongoing mentorship and a chance to be fast-tracked into a $10,000 grant by Elastica.
According to Kalsoom Lakhani, founder and CEO of Invest2Innovate and a judge at the Pakathon Global Finals, Ammi’s strength lies in using an existing model and tailoring it to meet the requirements of mothers. To access the service one must follow a simple process: call a toll-free number, sign up with help from an interactive voice response system (which will be available in both English and Urdu) and receive weekly text messages or voice calls. To opt into the system, an expectant mother needs to provide her due date so Ammi can figure out how far along she is. Using this information, the service will call the user a few times a week with 1 minute to 2 minute pre-recorded maternal health care tips in the form of voice messages. For example, the message may remind the woman to eat iron rich foods or urge her to get an important vaccine.
The service is available for 21 months, starting at pregnancy and ending one year after childbirth. Kamil Shafiq, one of the creators of The Ammi Service, says the best thing about the service is that it’s affordable for all, costing around 60 Canadian cents or Rs50 in Pakistan. This makes the plan cost-effective and sustainable in the long term, he adds. Shafiq explains the reason why similar services have not reached Pakistan before is because their content is not culturally selective. “Our mission is to eradicate those cultural barriers,” he shares.
One of the major reasons behind team Ammi’s success at the Pakathon was their proactive attitude towards the project. In the two weeks between the first pitch and the finals they managed to create the first version of their programme. The team’s dedication and swift action therefore made them an obvious choice for the judges. This year’s local winners were team Green Thumbs, an initiative to raise environmental awareness in Pakistan.
Over the last few years, Pakathon has created a meaningful space in which both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike can think creatively about the problems they are solving. Both Ammi and Green Thumbs illustrate the power of collaboration in creating sustainable solutions for some of Pakistan’s most pressing problems. Ria Lupton, the chapter lead for Pakathon Toronto says that Pakathon is attracting a lot of attention. “There is a focus on collaboration rather than competition right now. People realise that you can go further by working together,” she says. “People always want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and hackathons like this are a good way to give back.”
Samar Warsi is an attorney and writer based out of Dallas, Texas. She tweets @Swarsi
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 6th, 2015.