Our mDiabetes program is the largest text message based prevention program in the world. With this groundbreaking effort, we reached more than one million people from all over India with text messages in 12 languages about diabetes and its prevention, and tested the program’s effectiveness in bringing about behavior change known to prevent diabetes.
Mobile phones are widely used in India, throughout different geographic regions and socio-economic backgrounds. There are said to be about 900 million cell phone subscribers in India.
And we know from the WHO that approximately 80% of heart disease and diabetes, and 40% of cancers can be prevented through healthy lifestyles such as avoiding tobacco use, eating healthy foods and increasing daily physical activity.
mDiabetes was designed as a population-level nationwide public health intervention using mobile technology to establish health behaviors known to prevent diabetes.
In 2012, with Nokia Life we recruited 1,052,633 persons who opted-in to receive mDiabetes text messages. Messages were provided free to the consumers twice a week for six months. Participants came from all over India and a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.
Arogya World developed the 56 text messages with Emory University in late 2011, based on science and behavior change theory, and then, with Ipsos, consumer-tested them in simulated conditions as well as in the real world. We then refined the messages, adapting them culturally for Indian audiences based on consumer feedback and review by our Behavior Change Task Force. Nokia Life provided the translation and transmission infrastructure, and with them, we transmitted more than 56 million mDiabetes text messages to the consumers throughout 2012. mDiabetes text messages were made available in the following 12 languages: English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Punjabi, Assamese, and Oriya.
Program effectiveness was assessed by comparing responses of 950 consumers, based on telephone interviews, before and after they received the messages, and also by comparing them with the responses of a similar number of consumers who did not receive mDiabetes messages.
Consumers’ awareness of diabetes and its complications increased, and promising trends in behavior change were noted. The study was published in the Journal of Medical and Internet Research. We showed that greater than 20 percent more people improved their health behaviors as a result of receiving our texts about diabetes prevention.
The mDiabetes program is being expanded to 300,000 motivated consumers in Tamilnadu (2017-2020). Working with teams at Aravind Eye Hospital, we are testing the effectiveness of text and voice messages in bringing about improvement in health behaviors.