Mobile phones are the surprising tool improving maternal health
Maternal Health One of the most powerful relationships in global health and development is between a mother’s education and her child’s chances of survival.
Simply put: “The more educated a mother, the less likely her child is to die. … Behind every preventable child death is a disempowered mother” says Leith Greenslade, Co-Chair of Child Health, MDG Health Alliance.
The high returns on investing in education are indisputable. In particular, education can inform women’s understanding of disease causation and thus influence their decision-making regarding appropriate healthcare practices and services.
"Behind every preventable child death, is a disempowered mother.”
This is crucial because growing populations and shrinking government budgets are leaving families in many countries ill-informed and without adequate access to health workers. Thus, maternal and child mortality and malnutrition remain stubbornly prevalent and a lack of basic healthcare knowledge prevents women from recognising and tackling problems in time, as well as devastating families and diminishing economies.
A little goes a long way
"40% of child deaths could be prevented."
However, simple education of often illiterate and un-schooled mothers, especially in rural communities, could make an enormous and cost-effective difference and UNICEF points out that: “As many as 40 per cent of child deaths could be prevented with improved family and community care – not high-tech health equipment, but access to solid knowledge, support and basic supplies”.
A surprising solution
The solution is increasingly affordable and effective – and already in the hands of most of us: mobile phones. Mobile phones provide a discreet and easy way of sharing and facilitate the repeated viewing of information.
"A discreet and easy way of repeatedly sharing information."
When that information is educational health and nutrition material, a door is opened for the transfer of life-changing, and life-saving, knowledge directly to and amongst women, families and communities.
A future of wellbeing and dignity
Even one death is one too many and the provision of this basic education, especially regarding pregnancy and childbirth, has begun a shift towards ensuring a future for mothers and children that upholds their right – and that of all of us – to health, wellbeing and dignity.
About 4 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, still do not have access to the Internet, according to a 2017 United Nations report. In India, only just more than a third of the country’s 1.35 billion people are connected to the Internet, leaving over 800 million without access. And the Internet connections that India does have are unevenly distributed: while urban India has 61.9 Internet subscriptions per 100 people, rural India can only muster 13.7.
Thus, for the unconnected over 60% of Indians, who are predominantly female, low-income and rural, lack of access to the Internet can affect every facet of their lives – from how they manage the health of their families to how they communicate with each other and ultimately how long they will live.
Wiki Project Med Foundation in collaboration with Internet-in-a-Box and HealthPhone has developed an offline distribution system for medical and healthcare content geared specifically to South Asia.
The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust's HealthPhone initiative
A prime example of how effective this approach can be is HealthPhone, an initiative of The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust, founded on the principle that healthcare knowledge is a right and that disease and malnutrition can effectively be combated by bridging the knowledge gap that disenfranchises women.
HealthPhone brings short videos to women’s mobile phones to educate them on better health and nutrition practices. It focuses on adolescent girls and women up to 35 years of age, and their family members, and provides knowledge about the care of pregnant women and children under two, breastfeeding, the importance of balanced diet, simple ways to enhance nutrition levels and a spectrum of relevant health topics.
These educational videos are distributed free of charge via mobile phones, on microSD memory cards, through mobile network operators, mobile apps, social networks and the Internet, in collaboration with multiple relevant stakeholders including governments, non-governmental organisations and frontline health workers and nurses.