DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Launched nearly three years ago, Tanzania’s national Wazazi Nipendeni campaign has reached 125,000 pregnant women, providing more than five million messages and reminders about maternal health and safety. The method? Texting.
According to the governmental Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, Tanzanians send more text messages than any other population in East Africa. Even in the most remote villages, SMS messaging allows users to stay connected and access information.
Building upon the widespread use of mobile phone technology, Wazazi Nipendeni, “Love Me, Parents” in Swahili, seeks to promote healthy parental practices during pregnancy and beyond.
Goals outlined for the campaign include increasing the number of pregnant women who attended antenatal care within their first 16 weeks and at least four times throughout their pregnancies, sleeping under treated malaria prevention nets every night, and, along with their partners, undergoing HIV testing. The program also highlights the importance of outlining an individual birth plan that includes delivering at a heath facility equipped with a skilled health provider.
Although the campaign initially targeted malaria—advising pregnant women on issues surrounding the disease—research soon revealed that messages about safe maternal practices inform malaria prevention. Wazazi Nipendeni shifted focus to general pregnancy health.
Another broadening of the target audience also occurred early on in the Wazazi Nipendeni campaign implementation. Rather than just addressing mothers, the initiative recognized the importance of incorporating both parents, as well as community leaders, midwives, family members and friends, in the discussion of maternal health.
Initially titled “Love Me, Mama,” the program underwent a change. Love remained the focus, but with an expanded view to all the family and community members who love and help to support a healthy child.
We have realized that engaging women alone is not enough. We need to involve all members of the society to make the campaign more effective,” stated Tanzania Communication and Development Center official Pamela Kweka, a participant in the campaign.
Photo: A Plus
Just as it takes a proverbial village to raise children in Tanzania, cooperation has been a vital aspect of the campaign’s success.
“Each partner takes responsibility for its part in the service implementation, ranging from technical assistance to media promotion and training activities in health facilities,” stated U.S. Government Center for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation Project Manager Saulo Mutasingwa. “It’s a resilient collaboration as we all share the common goal to improve maternal health and reduce infant mortality.”
In partnership, the campaign’s backers and participants provide antenatal care and RMNCH services, spread healthy pregnancy and childcare information and assist with registering community members for SMS messages. The campaign has also overseen the distribution of informational print materials to Tanzanian hospitals, dispensaries and health centers.
In addition to the SMS platform and print materials, the program began airing radio and TV spots on the day of the Wazazi Nipendeni launch. During the early stages of the program, the initiative put out six to 12 radio spots daily on each of 16 national and regional radio stations. These spots have proved an incredibly effective tool, generating 83 percent of the program’s recognition exposure.
Evaluations of the campaign show that exposure to Wazazi Nipendeni informational materials significantly correlated with antenatal care visits, HIV testing, and knowledge of malaria’s dangers during pregnancy, among other key program issues. Individual anecdotes also reveal the way Wazazi Nipendeni materials have empowered Tanzanian women to provide their babies with better care.
A shortage of skilled health workers, lack of equipment, the continued impact of HIV/AIDS, and limited funding for the reproductive health of poor women still challenge Tanzania. Despite making strides to reduce deaths resulting from childbirth complications and infant mortality rates, the country still falls short of its Millennium Development Goals for reduced maternal deaths. However, programs like Wazazi Nipendeni give hope for a healthier future.