Tanzania is using Text messaging (SMS) service to boost maternity care

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By Janita Ferentinos:
The unique healthy pregnancy text messaging (SMS) service reached 100,000 active registrants in March 2013. More than 4 million text messages have been sent to those who signed up for the free healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood information, since the launch late November 2012.
Wazazi Nipendeni’ (Parents Love Me) is a national healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood multi-media campaign. The mHealth Tanzania Public Private Partnership strengthen this campaign by providing informative text messages and appointment reminders in Swahili at no charge for pregnant women and mothers of newborn babies up to 16 weeks of age. This service offers also free information to her supporters – such as husband, friends and family – and information seekers”, explains Sarah Emerson, Country Manager, mHealth Tanzania Partnership, CDC Foundation.
The Wazazi Nipendeni multi-media campaign includes promotion of the free text messaging service by listing the short-code on the campaign materials and instructs anyone interested in more information about healthy pregnancy to send the word ‘MTOTO’ (child) to the short-code 15001. Registrants receive instructional messages during registration, allowing them to indicate the woman’s current week or month of pregnancy (or the age of the newborn baby) during the enrollment process. “This process allows the recipients to receive specific text messages at the time the information is most relevant to them. The service registered an average of 7000 people per week. Healthcare partners such as the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) and the Aga Khan Health Services – Joining Hands Initiative – play an important role by supporting the registration assistance of pregnant women at the healthcare facility level.
Eliza’s experience  “I found the text messages on my phone very useful during the period of my pregnancy”, says Eliza (29). This first-time mother was part of a group of women that gave feedback on the informative messages before the service started. She registered for the service as soon as it was launched in November 2012. “I was happy to receive the ‘Wazazi Nipendeni’ information about my pregnancy. I liked the helpful tips, including the importance of attending clinics regularly. I was able to learn about the need for testing and malaria prevention. I feel that it benefited me to know these things. I was able to go and deliver my baby safely since my baby was born healthy and without malaria. This service has also assisted my husband to better understand what I was going through during my pregnancy, so that he could be of greater assistance to me according to my needs.”
Eliza works as a housekeeper in Dar es Salaam and considers herself privileged when it comes to receiving information. She reads the newspapers and listens to radio. The housekeeper believes the service will especially be useful to women in remote areas as many have a mobile phone. “Many people, especially those living in rural areas, are not realizing how important it is to visit clinics”, she states. “They just don’t receive as much education and information as we do a big city. Newspapers are scarce there and not everyone has a radio. It also does not cost anything to get these text messages. So anyone can get the information from the Wazazi Nipendeni text messaging service. It will benefit many people, because it reaches all regions around the country.”
Government led initiative  Tanzania is a large country, it almost 900,000 square kilometers big. The country is approaching a population of 44 million. Current reports show that there are over 25 million mobile phone subscribers in our country. Tanzania registers the highest average number of text messages sent per month per subscriber in East Africa. The use of text messaging (SMS) doubled over the past few years to almost 5 billion messages in 2012. The mobile technology is therefore recognized by the ministry as a useful tool to offer crucial healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood information to even the most remote pregnant woman and her supporters.
Dr. Mwendwa E. Mwenesi M.D, M.A- Health Policy, Planning and Management, Phones for Health (mHealth) Country Coordinator is proud to introduce the service as part of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare current mHealth initiatives: “The government actually has recognized the benefits of using technology for healthcare”, she elaborates. “The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare is giving a priority to mHealth initiatives and projects, because we have seen what it can do. The text message service Wazazi Nipendeni offers maternal health information and care of newborn. It can be accessed by the pregnant mother and couples through their mobile phone. Now people can have access to health information in the palm of their hands!” (See also the video of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Tanzania 

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