Mobile Phones and Maternal Health

As any parent knows, the birth of a healthy child is truly a miracle. Unfortunately, pregnancy and childbirth can pose significant health risks to mothers, and around 350,00 women around the world die because of childbirth every year. That’s about 1,000 women every day. The real tragedy is that most of these deaths could have been prevented, with access to proper medical care and increased health information.

That’s where mHealth comes in. Mobile phones can be used to share information about what to expect during pregnancy and childbirth, empowering mothers to make healthy decisions for themselves and their babies. By using their mobile phones to register their baby’s due date, women can automatically receive text or voice messages with information pertaining to their stages of pregnancy.  For example, messages could contain nutrition information about what foods will benefit mother and baby and what foods to avoid during pregnancy.  Once the baby is born, the new mom could receive information about recommended vaccinations for the baby. Knowledge of maternal health can dispel myths, connect women with local health services, promote breast feeding, and help new mothers care for their babies.

The United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals include a goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015. Maternal mortality rates range from under 10 per 100,000 live births in most developed countries to over 1,000 per 100,000 in Afghanistan and some African countries.  To help meet the UN’s goal, several global health organizations and other African children charities have chosen to focus on maternal applications of mHealth. One such organization is the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), a new public-private partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Johnson & Johnson, along with the UN Foundation, the mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter LLC. Founded in May 2011, MAMA is dedicated to delivering mobile health information to pregnant women and new mothers in India, Bangladesh, and South Africa. MAMA was developed in collaboration with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of State, and is expected to mobilize $10 million to these countries in the next three years.

The mHealth Alliance is also focused on this cause, with its “Maternal-newborn mHealth Initiative.” MMI, as it is known, brings together stakeholders from all sectors of the mobile health delivery system to share best practices, data, and technological developments. Maternal health-focused mHealth initiatives have the potential to save or improve the lives of thousands of women and newborns every year, ultimately leading to decreased maternal and infant mortality rates.

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