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Advancing Health in an Increasingly Urban World

Ahead of the 2015 Skoll World Forum, and Johnson & Johnson teamed up for this special series on cities and health. We asked social entrepreneurs and partners about the innovative solutions, treatments and technologies that are being developed or deployed to address health challenges in urban settings. What gaps need to be addressed? Who are you collaborating with? What is your vision for the future? And what can we learn from 15 years of working towards the Millennium Development Goals, that might be applied to the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals?  


Same City, New Story

Robert Clay

Vice President of Global Health , Save the Children


Mobile Solutions for Urban Health Challenges

Mobile Solutions for Urban Health Challenges

Alice Lin Fabiano

Global Director, Social Innovation, Global Community Impact, Johnson & Johnson

April 24, 2015 | 4537 views

In Kibera, a settlement within Nairobi, Kenya, one is enveloped by the fast-paced energy and constant buzz of activity, with shopkeepers displaying cloth, food stall owners preparing meals, and children in school uniforms rushing down the street. With up to a million people living within a five-kilometer radius, one is never really alone, but it is easy to feel lonely.

Many people flock to cities seeking economic opportunities, and by most accounts, fare better than their rural counterparts. However, low-income city dwellers, especially women, are often vulnerable to the harsh realities of urban living that can affect their health and well-being. Urban areas often lack appropriate sanitation, good air quality, clean water and regular electricity, which are important components of good health. And while cities can offer women more choices in terms of access to health care, they often don’t foster the strong, deep social networks that provide support in most rural settings.

We are also learning that in an urban setting, a woman’s preferences and needs are different. The urban woman is more likely employed outside the home in order to provide for herself and her family. Unfortunately, young women who leave their rural villages for cities are often detached from their traditional networks of close female family and friends and must forge new  relationships to seek guidance on the day-to-day rigors of city living. Mobile devices can provide access to the kind of information typically shared through those missing social networks.

We learned from our work with the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), a partnership with USAID, United Nations Foundation, and BabyCenter, that gaining a woman’s trust is the critical factor in achieving scale in mobile health programs in urban environments. Using mobile phones to deliver health information to new and expectant mothers has been shown to be an effective way to offer tips and advice on what to eat during pregnancy, early warning signs, and how to care for a newborn – just as a friend or companion would.

Jacaranda Health, a Johnson & Johnson partner, has adapted to these changing lifestyles and responsibilities of urban working women through a patient-centered model. Differentiating itself from health facilities where women must often wait a whole day for antenatal care, Jacaranda offers women specific appointment times and keeps clinics open later so women can more easily weave getting health services into their already busy lives.

With high mobile phone penetration in Nairobi, Jacaranda deploys digital health programs to help women get the information they need to stay healthy. For example, Jacaranda recently started tracking and sending reminders to women through their phones to increase the number of women who return, after delivery, for counseling.

By 2017 experts estimate that most people on our planet will be living in urban areas, with much of that growth concentrated in less-developed regions of the world. As the development community moves to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, we must continue to emphasize the health and well-being of women, adolescents and children. Johnson & Johnson believes that strong partnerships should continue to focus on empowering women and children to attain better access quality healthcare when and where they need it.

Together, we can take the lessons of MAMA and Jacaranda into account, and adapt them to help more women in an increasingly urbanized world.


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