Like so many people, I’ve always been interested in the potential of technology to help Africa leap frog ahead in terms of development. I read this article, http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2011/05/20110503132717enelrahc0.7857935.html#axzz1LCI5awBo
today discussing Secretary Clinton’s support and promotion for MAMA, a USAID funded program that texts health information to pregnant women and new mothers. The program is now in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.
This program follows on the heels of Text4Baby, a program launched by the White House. http://mobihealthnews.com/6394/white-house-cto-officially-launches-text4baby/
Which by the way started in Virginia, my home State!
I’ve actually thought something like this would be great for African women. One thing I saw in Uganda and in Cameroon was a true lack of general knowledge on pregnancy, best practices during pregnancy, birth, pre and post-natal care. Of course knowledge on health is missing broadly in Africa, but I guess it is particularly surprising regarding pregnancy since everyone is reproducing so much and the population is absolutely booming in Africa!
I think this knowledge is something western women take for granted as we all mostly receive free training and education on reproduction and pregnancy in High School or Middle School through Family Life and Sex Ed. Thus we often take for granted that Africans, having been in the birthing business for so long wouldn’t know basic facts like the importance of wiping front to back. This is something we take for granted as common knowledge, but seriously, a lot of women have had no education on reproductive health before they find themselves pregnant.
Even better than this MAMA SMS model would be to have a live SMS hotline where the women could text in for free questions like “My breast is hard and I can’t breast feed from one side. What should I do?” and then someone would send them the answer: “Massage your breast where it is hard and apply heat. If it doesn’t start producing milk in a day you need antibiotics from a doctor.” All too often in Africa women give up breast feeding when their problem could have been easily solved with some education. Surprising, but I really saw this.
Even better still would be to have them SMS the question in whatever local language and someone trained to respond could call them back and discuss the problem with them. The way the world is today, the return caller wouldn’t even need to be in Africa. They could get the text at a health center anywhere in the world with trained professionals and call back provided that the texter could speak French or English or another common language.
I can remember being at home in Virginia after giving birth and I was a hormonal mess, I didn't know what I was doing. I had post delivery complications. I was in pain and breast feeding was really difficult. Luckily, in my home town their was a program where after giving birth, a week later a nurse from the hospital actually CAME TO MY HOUSE FOR FREE and checked up on me and gave me information and help. This was beyond helpful and amazing.
Of course not everyone in the world is so lucky. The reality is that it will be decades before so many African women have good clinics set up in the villages they live in, but nearly every village has at least one mobile phone.
Again, I know I'm over simplifying, but you get the point!