MAMA: Life-saving text messages

It’s astounding to think that mobile technology has changed the world we live in. Africa, a place where some countries have more cell phones than toilets, farmers can receive real-time market updates on their crops. That’s why I was excited to attend the launch of a new partnership last week that will harness the power of mobile technology to empower expecting and new mothers to make healthy decisions and improve the health of millions of women and children.

Okyereko Rice Cooperative Association

A mom and her baby at the Okyereko Rice Cooperative in Ghana

Each year, only about half of the 123 million women who give birth receive the antenatal, delivery, postnatal and newborn care they need and have limited or no access to basic health information necessary to have safe pregnancies and healthy newborns. The explosion of mobile technology in recent years, including more than 1 billion women in low and middle income countries who own cell phones, offers a unique way to reach some of these women with important and timely health information.

For millions of women around the world, a simple text message could be the difference between life and death. That’s why USAID has partnered with Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter LLC to launch MAMA-The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. MAMA is expected to mobilize $10 million over the next three years and will work across three pilot countries, Bangladesh, India and South Africa to expand mobile health programs and improve maternal and child health.

As they say, knowledge is power and information via mobile phone will allow women to be more informed about their pregnancy and how to properly care for themselves and their baby, look for warning signs, dispel myths and misconceptions, and connect with local health services all to improve their health and that of their families. The technology even allows women to register their due date or their baby’s birth day so texts or voicemails can be specifically tailored to their needs. For instance, a woman who is three months pregnant may receive a text message on locally available foods and important nutrition information or the mother of a six week old may receive a reminder to visit a clinic and have her child vaccinated.