After feeling unusually hungry, thirsty and tired for some weeks, Tala*, a 42-year-old living in rural Philippines, was beginning to suspect something was wrong. It was a long journey to the nearest rural health unit (RHU) to get checked out and she was nervous about exposing herself to COVID-19. Help came in the shape of a community health worker trained as a reach52 Agent. “After I was screened by the Agent, it was confirmed that I do indeed have high blood sugar levels,” says Tala. She was then referred to a RHU to receive a prescription.
Tala’s story is typical of the work tech social enterprise reach52 is doing to strengthen rural communities by bringing essential health services to those who would otherwise struggle to access them.
Using data and technology to solve public health challenges
At least half the world’s population does not have access to essential healthcare. Typically, they live in regions in low- and middle-income countries with limited (if any) access to the skilled health workers, education, diagnostics, medicine, vaccinations and health insurance they need. reach52 trains health workers in these rural communities as Agents and equips them with reach52 access, an ‘offline-first’ health tech platform that enables access to a full range of accessible health services in even low-connectivity markets. The app allows Agents to collect health data from their communities and then use this data to deliver targeted health services to residents in their village, strengthening their community from within.
reach52 partners with these rural communities, prioritizing them based on income level, geographic access to clinics and pharmacies, stakeholder support and buy-in for innovation. It’s data-driven, human-powered approach uses a network of thousands of trained and tech-equipped community Agents. When implementing in a new community, the enterprise follows a three-step programmatic model:
1. Agents collect data: reach52 Agents collect a predetermined set of health and demographic data from each resident in the target community, creating individual health profiles.
2. Run targeted campaigns: This resident data is aggregated to uncover hyper-local insights into the health status of the community, highlighting specific gaps or needs. Working with clients and partners, reach52 then co-develops impactful data-informed campaigns to support Agents with providing targeted care within communities.
3. Engage and track: Supported by the reach52 app, Agents implement their targeted resident engagements, focusing on prevention, early detection, education and awareness, community screenings, referrals to care, and improved access to affordable health products. All the engagements are tracked through the reach52 digital platform.
Using this approach, reach52 has onboarded more than 1.2 million residents to its platform in 2500 communities across Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Kenya and the Philippines.
Partnering to upskill community health workers
With support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation (the Center) first partnered with reach52 in 2020 to support its rapid response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines. reach52 worked to develop and deliver training to community health workers (CHWs) in Western Visayas, Philippines, focusing on COVID-19 prevention and mitigation, reaching over 200,000 residents. Alongside this, reach52 launched a chatbot in over 20 languages, which geo-targeted accurate and timely information on the virus to residents of selected rural communities in five countries.
Since that initial collaboration, the partnership has expanded to focus on the use of technology in empowering and upskilling CHWs, working on campaigns covering infectious diseases, maternal child health and non-communicable diseases such as mental health.
Currently the partnership supports reach52’s work providing upskilling to existing government-aligned CHWs through both in-person sessions and digital remote learning. The top CHWs are then invited to become reach52 Agents, with additional training, onboarding and a practicum component in which participants put their new skills to use by engaging with selected community residents. To date, the partnership has allowed reach52 to upskill more than 8600 Agents who have engaged over 385,000 residents in Philippines and Indonesia.
Empowering communities with tech-enabled healthcare
Access to reach52’s technology has changed the lives not only of thousands of communities across these target markets but also of the CHWs working within them, many of whom have never before had the opportunity and training to enhance their work with a mobile app.
“In my more than 20 years, this is the first time that I was able to use a digital application in profiling and providing screening services to my communities,” says one CHW from Iloilo, Philippines. “I don’t have to worry about memorizing BP and blood glucose tables anymore to interpret my client’s results—the app already does it for me! Even the community residents were impressed by this tool.”
Another CHW from Indonesia’s Bojonegara District feels that reach52 has enabled her to build deeper connections within her community, and in turn, has allowed her to improve health outcomes. “reach52 helps me make more friends and enables me to help my village community to be more aware of their health conditions. When I did the screening, I found many potential health problems in some people because they were afraid to go to the Puskesmas [health clinics].”
The organization’s ultimate goal is to empower Agents anywhere in the world to be able to access health services to care for their community, all with one app.
“Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation’s vision to support health workers directly aligns with both reach52's and our communities’ needs,” says Edward Booty, CEO and founder of reach52. “Health workers and stronger primary care, with suitable referral mechanisms, is essential to achieving health for all and the Sustainable Development Goals; this partnership has been a huge catalyst and driver of this essential capacity building.”
*not real name