MOUNTAIN LAKES, New Jersey — Though improving maternal and child health is a Millennium Development Goal, 800 women die from pregnancy-related illness each day, and 3.1 million newborns die every year. The World Health Organization found that maternal deaths rates have decreased only about 2.6 percent each year. To protect mothers and children, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton established MAMA, or the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, to provide critical maternal health information via mobile devices.
According to the WHO, part of the reason why mothers and infants do not get proper medical care is that there is a lack of information about how modern maternal and infant care works. MAMA attempts to eliminate this problem with timed “core” messages distributed on mobile devices through both text messages and the Internet. The instructions, which cover the fifth week of pregnancy to the first year of the infant’s life, explain what medical care the mother and child need to stay healthy.
MAMA can also provide its users with advice about how to deal with specific concerns and medical problems like HIV and family planning upon request. These services are important because they give life-saving information to mothers dealing with less common and well-understood conditions.
The use of mobile devices to get important information to mothers is important for the spread of medical information because mobile phones are more widespread than traditional computers and landlines in developing countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 65 percent of households have at least one mobile device, and Africa and Asia are the largest markets for mobile phones, according to Gallup Polls.
MAMA, in partnership with government agencies and NGOs, works directly to provide messages in India, Bangladesh and South Africa through existing national cell networks. MAMA also works with doctors in those countries to make sure they distribute accurate and relevant information about maternal health.
In addition to its direct programs, MAMA also allows other organizations around the world to apply for access to its messages and distribute them over their country’s networks. MAMA allows groups it gives its information to permission to slightly change the content of the messages to respect local cultures. This enhances the effectiveness of delivery and makes the service accessible to more mothers.
Currently, MAMA and its 300 affiliated groups operate in over 70 countries around the world and give information to an estimated 1.4 million women. As the penetration of mobile devices increases, MAMA will be able to give more women in developing countries important maternal health information.
Another one of MAMA’s important functions is that it can offer surveys to its users on mobile devices for information about how well the program works and what new methods might be useful. Initial surveys indicate MAMA programs are successful. For example, 75 percent of surveyed mothers in Bangladesh indicated they were better able to care for their infants after using MAMA, and 95 percent of users would have recommended the service to others.
In developing countries, a lack of specialized doctors and continued poverty will make improving maternal health difficult. Nevertheless, groups like MAMA empower women to take the necessary steps to keep themselves and their children healthy and safe.
– Ted Rappleye