Text Messaging Gives Malawi’s Expectant Mothers a Head Start

Posted March 20th, 2015 at 2:00 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

A community health worker registers a pregnant mother for ANC Connect at Kasinje Health Center in Malawi. (Jodi-Ann Burey)

A community health worker registers a pregnant mother for ANC Connect at Kasinje Health Center in Malawi. (Jodi-Ann Burey)

You don’t have to speak Chichewa to know what Chipatala cha pa Foni is about, but it helps if you are a pregnant mother or health worker in Malawi.

Chipatala cha pa Foni means health center by phone. Launched by the non-profit VillageReach in 2011, the center connects expectant mothers in Malawi with health workers to receive appropriate care and health services.

Part of the program is a toll-free hotline service called ANC Connect, which “uses the hosted service TextIt to send and receive text messages to/from pregnant women and community health workers,” said Erin Larsen-Cooper, Program Manager of the Health Systems Group at VillageReach in an email interview.

ANC Connect is not a mobile app. “By design,” added Larsen-Cooper, “users don’t need an app on their phone to access [the] service; the service can be accessed from any phone [even basic ones] by registering … via SMS.”

Users simply text an approved keyword to a prescribed code in order to register. ANC Connect then generates appropriate prompts to register the client or set an appointment.

Once in the system, registered users can get reminders and tips about reproductive, maternal and newborn health, information about maternal care and child issues, as well as referral assistance.

“If a client misses an ANC appointment, her community health worker will receive a SMS alert,” said Larsen-Cooper.

The two-way text messaging allows VillageReach to increase the number of pregnant women who receive recommended prenatal care visits and information related to birth planning, including reminders to use maternal health facilities for delivery and follow-up services.

In turn, the service lets community health workers keep track of pertinent information about their patients, such as the date of their last appointment, whether they’ve completed a birth plan, and when and where they delivered their baby.

The pilot for ANC Connect, which started in December 2014, was done in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in rural areas in Malawi’s Balaka and Ntcheu districts, where VillageReach said only about 45% of households have access to a mobile phone.

In that case, Larsen-Cooper said ANC Connect “relies on community health workers to follow-up with women who have missed an appointment” and lets women without phones register through a community health worker who receives notifications of missed appointments on their behalf.

According to Larsen-Cooper, 500 pregnant women enrolled in the pilot program. She said participants experienced improved relations with community health workers as a result of using the service, while health workers were able to visit clients more frequently and follow up with expectant mothers who might not get that kind of care outside the program.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

One response to “Text Messaging Gives Malawi’s Expectant Mothers a Head Start”

  1. P V Joseph says:

    The Clinton Health Alliance under Program manager, Larsen Cooper reports good response to its pilot program on ANC healthcare with SMS to assist.
    As a doctor, I consider that child care and family care should be added on into the program.
    Since over a decade, the bacteria and virus have often mutated to develop drug resistance, and overcome the immunity in the general population, with Dengue virus having an annual infection rate of more than 50 million cases. It is therefore necessary to provide basic healthcare for the child and family as a unit, providing vitamins ( Vitamin B1, B2 -Thiamine, Riboflavin,), and others, essential minerals, safe water, and methods for good hygiene, lighting, and ventilation in the houses. This will keep the general health of the family up to the expected standards. I have personally taken part in programs to assess hygiene and ventilation in houses, and advised families on keeping clean and providing adequate windows, plus monitored the infant immunization status in the 1990s, where we kept the WHO promise to provide 100% immunization (especially for polio) by 2000. These methods are fundamental, and must be incorporated into any system that now develops successfully.

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