Mothers get the message in Ghana

[Article published in The Review (Feb. 2010)]

An innovative scheme in Ghana uses cellphones to improve the quantity and quality of care for expectant mothers and newborn babies

One effect of the spread of cellphones in the developing world is that their use in mobile health initiatives has become increasingly popular.

In West Africa, for example, the Ghanaian government, in partnership with the Grameen Foundation (a non-profit organization that funds access to microfinance and technology for people living in poverty), is planning to use cellphones to increase the quantity and quality of antenatal and neonatal care in rural areas of the country.

The two-and-a-half-year Mobile Technology for Community Health (MoTeCH) scheme will develop a suite of services, delivered over basic cellphones, that provide relevant health information to pregnant women and encourage them to seek antenatal care from local facilities. At the same time, MoTeCH will help community health workers to identify women and newborn babies in their area who are in need of healthcare services, and automate the process of tracking patients who have received care.

Pregnant women will register by providing their phone number, the area in which they live, their estimated due date and their language preference. They will then begin to receive SMS and/or voice messages that provide information about their pregnancy (milestones in fetal development, for example), the location of their nearest health center, and specific treatments that they should receive during their pregnancy, such as tetanus vaccinations. Once her child is born, the mother will continue to receive messages and information about essential vaccinations for her child and how to manage critical childhood illnesses.

The system will also include a facility that enables mothers to send healthrelated questions via SMS and receive responses by the same medium. There will also be specific tools for community health workers, who will be able to enter data on patients into a national patient register using their cellphones. This will make daily record-keeping simpler for them, as well as enabling the Ghana Health Service to track the delivery of antenatal services and send timely and important messages to both health workers and patients.

MoTeCH, which is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a collaboration between Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Ghana Health Service. All the parties involved hope that the end result will be a fall in infant mortality and disease across the country.

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