Meet Alain Nteff. The 27-year-old from Cameroon is on a mission to create a world free from maternal and infant deaths by using mobile technology to reach pregnant women and mothers who don’t have easy access to quality healthcare services.
Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, maternal mortality is one of the biggest health challenges in Cameroon. It ranks 18th among the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; and in 2015, there were 600 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Alain Nteff, founder of GiftedMom, poses for a portrait in their offices in Yaoundé, Cameroon, November 2019.
“My commitment to ending extreme poverty is really focused around healthcare,” Nteff tells Global Citizen. “Making sure that health is accessible to people who need it most.”
“At GiftedMom, our mission is to provide instant access to every expectant mom during pregnancy and after birth,” he continues.
The company communicates with moms and expectant moms in two key ways: through an SMS service that helps mothers with appointment reminders; and an app that has visual educational content to help mothers understand the healthcare they need to have a safe pregnancy and delivery.
Mothers can also send questions to a doctor or midwife using a toll-free phone number, or through the app.
In addition, GiftedMom also has a fund that finances care for moms in areas with little or no healthcare resources.
Alain Nteff speaks with an expecting couple outside of St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Yaoundé Cameroon, in November 2019.
Nteff is one of the five extraordinary young finalists for the Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award — which was launched in 2018 to celebrate and help amplify the work of the young people around the world who are committed to the fight to end extreme poverty.
The winner of the Cisco Youth Leadership Award will receive a $250,000 prize to help fund the organization through which they’re having impact.
The award will be presented at the Global Citizen Prize award ceremony on Dec. 13 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The ceremony will also be broadcast around the world later in December.
For Nteff, it was his passion for using his skills and education to help solve local challenges that inspired him to start GiftedMom.
“Mothers don’t choose to be in environments with fragile healthcare systems,” Nteff said.
A visit to a medical doctor friend who was practising in a rural area made him realize that it was time to turn his empathy into action.
“My medical doctor friend had experienced lots of premature babies dying because of the lack of an incubator where he worked, and also women showing up for delivery with complications because they didn’t complete their antenatals,” he says.
An expecting couple who use the GiftedMom program speak with Christelle Yongoua, clinical midwife at St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Yaoundé Cameroon, on November 2019.
A woman, who uses the GiftedMom program, is cared for by Philippe, staff member of St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Yaoundé Cameroon.
An expecting mother is cared for by Cyrille at St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Yaoundé Cameroon, November 2019.
Staff members at St. Martin de Porres Hospital speak with one another.
In 2017, 810 women died every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, 94% of all maternal deaths occur in low and lower middle-income countries.
But, as Nteff and the WHO highlight, most maternal deaths are preventable — and the healthcare solutions needed to save their lives and the lives of their babies are well known.
All women need access to high quality care in pregnancy, and during and after child birth.
“So we decided to build a solution to educate moms,” says Nteff. “We didn’t see why with so much technology in the world, we should still have moms, and people in general, dying from preventable causes.”
GiftedMom’s impact is impressive.
Ijang Meekness, the operations manager at GiftedMom, presents the GiftedMom application to a group of pregnant women at St. Martin de Porres Hospital in Yaoundé Cameroon, November 2019.
“We have over 180,000 moms actively using our services, and we are running pilot projects in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mauritania,” says Nteff, adding that antenatal care attendance has been boosted by up to 95% in areas where GiftedMom is working.
“Before GiftedMom, over 30% of pregnant women used to miss their hospital appointments leading to many cases of complications during their delivery,” he says. “After GiftedMom, women missing appointments is now below 5% in the hospitals where we work.”
GiftedMom has also partnered with the Ministry of Health in Cameroon to send more than 10 million mobile phone messages to moms.
The messages aimed to help educate mothers about iron deficiency anaemia (IDA), malnutrition, and other health conditions they’re vulnerable to during pregnancy, such as malaria, sexually transmitted infections, and toxoplasmosis — a parasitic infection that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or damage to a baby’s organs.
He added that, in Cameroon, one doctor will be responsible for about 10,000 pregnant women.
This means the expectant mothers have to queue for about seven hours to see a doctor, Nteff says. Meanwhile doctors are generally only able to spend fewer than five minutes with the mom.
GiftedMom is also currently rolling out fast-track kiosks in hospitals to reduce wait time before getting care from seven hours to 30 minutes.
Alain Nteff and the team are pictured at the GiftedMom HQ in the Melen district of Yaoundé Cameroon in November 2019.
Nteff says he is excited to be nominated for the Cisco Youth Leadership Award. If he wins, he’ll use the US$250,000 cash prize to reach even more mothers in Cameroon and beyond its borders.
“Today, we’ve reached about 200,000 moms in Cameroon and we are proud of the progress we’ve made,” he adds. “But there’s a lot to be done.”
He says that, in the next 10 years, there will be 500 million new pregnancies in Africa. With the current rate of maternal and infant deaths, he adds, 5 million mothers will lose their lives, and up to 20 million babies will die before reaching their fifth birthday.
“We really want to scale our technologies nationwide in Cameroon, and into other markets, to prevent this from happening,” he adds. “Our vision is to provide instant access to quality healthcare, education, and financing to prevent this from happening.”
“We want to save 25 million lives in the next decade,” Nteff says. “This is for me. This is for my family. This is for my society.”
Alain Nteff poses for a portrait in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Proud partners of the Global Citizen Prize include Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, Citi, Live Nation, Reckitt Benckiser (RB), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Motsepe Foundation.