By: Loic Sanchez – Innovation Unit, UNICEF Supply Division
On 9 October, 2014 there was a scorching and humid heat over Kinshasa. It was the beginning of the rainy season. It was barely 8:30 a.m. when we arrived at PRONANUT (National Nutrition Programme) and I already felt drops of sweat beading on my forehead. Amina (Amina Bangana – Nutrition Specialist/Child Survival and Development) watched over me, and offered a pack of paper towels and a bottle of water: my new survival kit in Congo.
Over the next three weeks, no less than 2000 children had their weight estimated thanks to Mercy tape, an innovative product developed by the Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas, United States. This tape was designed to estimate the weight of a child between 2 months and 16 years without weighing them: all that is needed is to wrap the renowned tape around their arm. The DRC was one of the first UNICEF country offices to allow healthcare providers to test this tape and measure its effectiveness. The objective of this test was to collect healthcare providers’ opinions on the usefulness of the tape.
Although the scientific effectiveness of the tape has already been proven, checks must now be made with healthcare personnel to ensure that it actually facilitates, for them, the measurement of a child’s weight. This tape is revolutionary in allowing you to avoid the use of a scale, a tool which is costly and gets worn with age, losing its accuracy.
The project is still in its initial phase: we started by training healthcare personnel on the use of the tape. The ten trainers had to wake up early this morning to brave the traffic jams of Kinshasa. I shared their enthusiasm: we will finally be able to see if this innovation withstands the realities of the field.
The session started. Without further ado, I removed two tapes from their container in order to show them, not without a certain pride, to the trainers. In spite of the undeniable innovative aspect of the product, the “Wow!” factor did not occur. The 10 trainers skeptically looked at the paper tapes which I held between my fingers. “This is a revolution!” would have boasted Steve Jobs. No, the Mercy tapes are not an iPhone 6 and so I started, without further delay, the demonstration of weight measurements to show the product’s usage/ how to use the product.
The training lasted all week. I was happy to see that the trainers have already taken ownership of this study, while understanding what was at stake as well as its innovative dimension.
At the end of these two days spent in the DRC, I cherished the hope that one day Congolese children’s health status would benefit from the spirit of innovation demonstrated by the many persons involved in this project.