HHS, LeapFrog work to aid Afghani women

The people of Afghanistan have a new tool to learn valuable public health lessons, thanks to a joint project by the Department of Health and Human Services and LeapFrog Enterprises Inc., which is best known for its popular educational products for children.

Aimed primarily at the 80 percent of Afghani women who cannot read or write, the Afghan Family Health Book allows users to electronically interact with a 42-page storybook designed to teach basic health information.

The Afghan Family Health Book is "a remarkable document that is going to improve the quality of health, and therefore of life," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "These books are going to have an enormous impact on the people of Afghanistan."

This project exemplifies what can happen when the public and private sectors "work together to use technology to help people all around the world," Thompson said.

Two thousand books are currently en route to Kabul to be distributed to hospitals and clinics across the country. HHS officials are looking for a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to take responsibility for delivery of the remaining 18,000 books and conduct studies to measure the effectiveness of the project.

The design of the book "combines a real, proven curriculum with great visual and audio technology to improve everyday lives," according to Tom Kalinske, chief executive officer of LeapFrog.

The book contains more than 350 items of recorded information on 19 personal health subjects.

Basic health information covered includes diet, childhood immunization, pregnancy, breastfeeding, sanitation and water boiling, treating injuries and burns, and preventing disease.

The book covers everyday household situations and information specific to child and reproductive health through interactive stories.

The product runs on three AAA batteries, which supply enough power for one school year. When the batteries die, HHS and NGO officials will provide new batteries to hospitals and clinics. The book can also run on a DC adapter, Kalinske said.

Overall, researching and developing the 20,000 books, paid for mostly by HHS with donations from LeapFrog, cost $1.2 million. Company officials declined to comment on the base cost of production of each book.

Discussions are under way on how this partnership can be extended globally. Officials are considering adapting the Afghan Family Health Book for countries in Africa being devastated by the AIDS pandemic and the impoverished borderlands connecting the United States and Mexico.

Afghan Family Health Book

The Afghan Family Health Book teaches readers basic family health care practices using LeapFrog Enterprises Inc.'s patented, portable interactive paper-based platform.

Readers use a stylus, similar to the pen-like instrument used to operate many personal digital assistants, to touch characters on the page, which will play a story that illustrates good public health practices. Touching the stylus to the words prompts the books to play the recorded information aloud.

The technology combines audio and visual learning to teach readers important health and safety information without the need of a doctor or trained public health official.

A team of experts from the Afghan Women's Affairs and Health Ministries, Voice of America and LeapFrog's content development team collaborated to make the book culturally appropriate and available in the country's major languages — Dari and Pashto.

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