Innovative action to improve maternal, newborn and child health through the use of mobile technology

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By Yogan Pillay:
South African government is working to make this vision for the future of mHealth a reality and has taken innovative action to improve maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) through the use of mobile technology.This year, the South African National Department of Health will launch the first coherent nationwide maternal mobile health system. South Africa already has extremely high levels of mobile phone use, increasing the potential of mobile technology to positively impact on maternal and child health.
As part of the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), one of the targets of this system will be to register 1 million pregnant mothers into a national public health database. The goal is to register all pregnant clients attending public health facilities as early in their pregnancy as possible, voluntarily subscribing them to receive health promotion messages that encourage early attendance at antenatal care visits.
The main objective of registration is to encourage mothers to seek antenatal care. This will help to improve maternal health and reduce mortality of pregnant women and their babies. The likelihood of the mother seeking care is improved by the accountability enforced through the mHealth SMS system. Messages are also sent to the mother after the birth that promotes her health and the health of the baby.
The harmonization of existing programs and services is critical to the success of a national mHealth system of this nature. The national scale-up seeks to build upon the success of existing messaging systems by combining efforts and data toward an integrated and efficient system. The success of this effort is contingent upon the successful development of an integrated framework for both receiving data and sending health promotion messages, as well as the cooperation of key players in the mHealth field. This includes mobile network operators Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom.
If effective, this model can be adapted for other uses in South Africa, including chronic diseases such as HIV. I hope that it will also be of use in other countries, offering a powerful tool in efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of improving maternal and child health. This model aims to integrate existing mHealth projects into a broader mHealth system, essentially mainstreaming the use of mobile technology into public health efforts on a national scale. If we succeed, then we will truly move a step closer to dropping the “m” from mHealth.

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