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  • Health
  • International Development

Can Mobile Phones Help Moms Have Healthier Babies

To reduce maternal and infant mortality, the South Africa National Department of Health needed an effective way to provide vital healthcare information to nearly 1.2 million pregnant women. The answer? MomConnect, which uses mobile technology to reach pregnant women across the country, taking advantage of about 90% cell phone ownership among South Africans.[1]

Launched in August 2014, MomConnect sends text messages to pregnant women and new mothers to encourage healthy behaviors and regular checkups. Women also can give feedback on their healthcare services. MomConnect complies with South African eHealth standards[2] and shares the valuable data and feedback it gathers with national health information systems.

Joy Kamunyori is a project manager and health informatics advisor who supports MomConnect and other initiatives under the USAID-funded MEASURE Evaluation Strategic Information for South Africa (MEval-SIFSA) project. “We work with the South Africa National Department of Health in implementing its e-health strategy,” she says. “MomConnect is a great example of mobile health strategy in action.”

How It Works

Typically, a woman registers for MomConnect during a visit to a healthcare clinic, but she also can self-register using her mobile phone or be registered elsewhere by a certified community health worker.

“When a pregnant woman goes for her first antenatal care visit,” Kamunyori explains, “a nurse confirms her expected delivery date and tells her about MomConnect. If the woman wants to sign up, the nurse registers her in the system.”

Each week, users receive two messages tailored to the stage of their pregnancy or their child’s age. This continues throughout their pregnancy and until their child turns one. The messages, which are available in the 11 South African official languages, give tips for having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, as well as information on broader health topics related to women’s and children’s health.

When an expecting mother registers for MomConnect at a clinic, she is invited to take a survey to rate her experience. The survey aligns with the South African National Core Standards for Health and asks users to rate cleanliness, friendliness, professionalism, perceived waiting time, and actual waiting time at the clinic. MomConnect transfers service ratings to the District Health Information System and records the woman’s pregnancy in the National Pregnancy Register.[3]

Women also can use FAQ and helpline features to anonymously ask questions and provide comments about their healthcare experiences. “There’s been quite a bit of interaction with women using MomConnect,” Kamunyori says. “While South African telemedicine laws don’t allow diagnoses to be made over the phone, we can respond to questions and offer referrals.”

Every month, MomConnect sends user feedback to local health administrators who use it to detect problems and improve services at healthcare facilities. For example, when MomConnect users reported that iron tablets were widely out of stock in a northern province, members of the local department of health met with clinic staff to review ordering procedures.[4]

Results

To date, more than 700,000 unique users have registered with MomConnect—an adoption rate of more than 50% and a reach that encompasses more than 95% of the country’s clinics.[5] The help desk has answered more than 180,000 questions,[6] and the system has recorded nearly 80,000 service ratings.[7]

“Capturing user comments has made a big difference,” Kamunyori says.“ Monitoring is having a positive impact on services. Based on our review of anecdotal feedback, we believe MomConnect is helping to improve the quality of antenatal healthcare services.”

Looking Ahead

With support from MEval-SIFSA and other partners, MomConnect is advancing South Africa’s health information system and generating momentum for additional digital health services and policies. In the future, the program could add mobile channels, integrate with the national health insurance system, and generate data and monitor performance at other points in the continuum of care.[8] Its reach in the country makes it an ideal platform for additional health-related services—for moms, children, and all South Africans.

For more information on mhealth, see:

http://measureevaluation.org/measure/sifsa/mhealth and http://www.measureevaluation.org/measure/our-work/mhealth



[1] Peter JE, Barron P, Pillay Y. Using mobile technology to improve maternal, child and youth health and treatment of HIV patients. S Afr Med J 2016;106(1):3-4.

[2] MomConnect presentation by Joy Kamunyori and Tara Nutley on behalf of Robert Allen, MEASURE Evaluation SIFSA. March 2016.

[3] MomConnect presentation by Joy Kamunyori and Tara Nutley on behalf of Robert Allen, MEASURE Evaluation SIFSA. March 2016.

[4] S Afr Med J 2016;106(1):3-4. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i1.10209. Page 3.

[6] S Afr Med J 2016;106(1):3-4. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i1.10209. page 3

[7] MomConnect presentation by Joy Kamunyori and Tara Nutley on behalf of Robert Allen, MEASURE Evaluation SIFSA. March 2016.

[8] Allen R. “USSD Service Rating through the National Department of Health’s MomConnect project: Citizen-Based Monitoring of Antenatal Clinics.”  MEASURE Evaluation SIFSA: Pretoria, South Africa.