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“Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as a basic necessity for good health is a fundamental building block for economic and development growth. There is a need to monitor and maintain the surveillance of WASH in both schools and communities through efficient and consistent data collection.”

These were the words of Fiji’s Minister for Health and Medical Services, Mr Jone Usamate, as he opened last month’s five-day Akvo FLOW and RSR training workshop in Fiji. He followed this by emphasising the potential of mobile and wireless technologies to transform health service delivery around the world. The Fiji workshop was one of two that Anna-Marthe and I delivered in the latter half of January this year as part of our regional partnership with UNICEF Pacific.

For an island nation like Fiji, physical remoteness often hampers data collection meaning there is limited information to ensure bottlenecks in service delivery and infrastructure are effectively targeted. Looking at Fiji’s schools, for example, we know that 75% have access to WASH facilities such as toilets, hand washing stations and sanitary disposal bins. However, as Eric Siegel wrote in his recent post on this topic, Fijian students still suffer from hygiene-related diseases such as diarrhoea, lice, trachoma, and scabies. Issues like this require detailed, up-to-date data that can be quickly disaggregated and easily communicated. Enter the power of data collection using a smartphone.

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Above and top: participants on the Akvo FLOW and Akvo RSR workshop in Fiji learnt how to use smartphones to benchmark school WASH infrastructure and behaviours. Photos by Stefan Kraus.
Below: the map shows the baseline data that was collected from 12 pilot schools during the WASH in Schools training in Fiji.

The first of the two workshops was held in Fiji, to support a new WASH in schools initiative that will focus on benchmarking school WASH infrastructure and behaviours. The training brought together a diverse group of over 40 participants from 19 organisations across Fiji’s WASH sector and from the moment we entered the Suva Business Centre on Day One, we were propelled by our group’s enthusiasm and excitement. There were late nights and early mornings and at times the sheer number of participants and inconsistent internet connection made for an uphill struggle. However, the group had the energy, patience and resolve to stick it out and, by Day Five, every member had reached the summit and was enjoying the view. (This encompassed the Akvo FLOW dashboard and mobile application, the Akvo RSR platform and a complete pilot of the WASH in schools benchmarking exercise across 12 schools in the Tailevu Province). As one of the participants commented at the end of the workshop, all you need is a smartphone and an open mind.

Fiji WASH in Schools mapThe second workshop saw us hopping to Vanuatu to support the Vanuatu Government’s water system inventory and mapping project. Building on the previous workshops delivered by our colleagues Amitangshu, Aulia and Lissy, we got to know the team (including staff from the Vanuatu Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources, UNICEF and ADRA) that has been busy preparing for a national scale-up of last year’s data collection across SHEFA Province. The workshop involved a deep dive into the project’s planning processes and discussions about next steps and indicators. We also provided an extension training on FLOW dashboard management and an overview of new FLOW features and reporting using external mapping tools. This workshop was somewhat unique for us, with its focus on pre-scale-up planning and post-collection reporting, but we welcomed the opportunity to provide ongoing support to this exciting initiative.

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Above and below: the Akvo FLOW workshop in Vanuatu involved a deep-dive into planning processes with participants from the Vanuatu Department of Geology, Mines and Water Resources, UNICEF and ADRA. Photos by Stefan Kraus.

DSCF1816 By the end of our short stay it was impossible to deny that the Pacific had left a very positive impression on us. My colleague Amitanshu has written previously about his experiences in Vanuatu (Open data and the aid boom in the Pacific) and it has been a privilege to see this in action.

This trip marked Akvo’s first workshop in Fiji and it’s clear that Fiji and its neighbours have the right mix of people, infrastructure and systems to see them taking a leading role in the global uptake of mobile technologies to achieve regional development objectives. We look forward to continuing to be a part of that journey.

Stefan Kraus is programme manager at Akvo, based in Canberra. You can follow him on Twitter @StefanGK