SOUTH AFRICA — The rate of death among mothers and their children remains a severe issue that threatens numerous countries. South Africa’s National Department of Health publicly launched MomConnect in 2014 to address the prevalence of this problem.
South Africa’s MomConnect gives helpful information to women who are pregnant and raising children. The accessibility of the platform stands out, as women gain the knowledge they need through messages sent to their phones. The platform sends weekly texts so women know what is happening in their pregnancy, as well as their baby’s development. In addition, specific methods to better their child’s wellness—and likewise their own—are included.
These messages are free and last from the mother’s pregnancy up to her child’s first birthday. The platform also provides knowledge about testing, clinical trips and required medications during this critical time period.
Women are able to sign up for the service through 95 percent of the clinics in South Africa, although they do not necessarily need to go to these facilities in order to register. MomConnect information goes to the country’s National Pregnancy Register.
Beyond receiving these regular messages, women can also use the helpline—enabling them to ask questions and give feedback. The platform monitors these reviews on a month-to-month basis, and then directs them to the proper individuals in order to confront (for example) criticisms of service—and consequently enhance healthcare provided.
When women register, they can also take a survey that evaluates the clinic on variables like privacy, cleanliness and waiting time. This method helps define the course for any changes that should be made to better the clinic.
When it launched, South Africa’s MomConnect had the threat of not reaching certain Millennium Development Goals in mind. One of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 aspired to reach 38 (or less) maternal mortalities per 100,000 live births. Similarly, the United Nations Development Program had a 2015 Millennium Development Goal aiming to bring infant death rates to 18 (or fewer) per 1,000 live births.
However, South Africa’s maternal mortality rate in 2013 was 140 per 100,000 live births. Simultaneously, its infant death rate for the same year reached 29 for every 1,000 live births. The MomConnect platform appeared to be a viable option to ensure women (and their children) lower risks of mortality. It could combine adjustments on both ends—meaning modifications in the actions women take as well as the effectiveness of the healthcare they receive.
The popularity of using cell phones for a health-based platform looked to the accomplishments of phone-based initiatives in other nations. Furthermore, the recognition that women who are pregnant in South Africa likely have a phone (or are able to acquire one for usage) provided even greater justification for MomConnect.
Praekelt.org is the technical implementer of MomConnect. When asked about intentions to expand the platform to other nations, Head of Communications Ambika Samarthya-Howard described future plans. “We are currently in the pilot stage of expanding this with interactive voice response in Nigeria,” Samarthya-Howard said. Samarthya-Howard also referenced another project that includes Uganda’s Ministry of Health and UNICEF “targeting village health teams in Uganda.”
She provided insight on MomConnect’s services and their potential to assist mothers beyond the first year deadline. “We are currently also working on developing this platform to cover early childhood as well…in response to our registered mothers asking for information after their child turns a year old,” Samarthya-Howard said.
MomConnect and similar services will hopefully succeed in guaranteeing that women and children have the proper tools, resources and information they need. National and international targets of vastly reducing deaths among these demographics could ideally be met sooner than expected.
So far, South Africa’s MomConnect is breaking major ground in order to reach that goal.
– Maleeha Syed