Mobile Health Messages Are Helping Parents and Saving Lives
Health organizations are sending health messages to parents around the world through their phones.
Author: Colleen Hancock
First-time parents Jackqueline and Fred have a lot of questions about how to care for their daughter, Pretty. For example, Pretty cried a lot when she was a baby, and Fred and Jackqueline didn't know what to do. They live in Nairobi, Kenya, more than 12 hours from Jackqueline’s mother, and can’t afford to call home for advice.
Fortunately, Fred’s mobile phone provides another type of lifeline: Through the Free Basics program, the couple can access a range of mobile websites covering topics that include parenting, jobs, and health – without data charges.
In the evenings when Fred comes home from work, they sit and read advice on the BabyCenter® Free Basics site, which features information for pregnant women and new parents. The articles are written in Kiswahili by health journalists and reviewed by medical experts. The advice is customized for parents in Kenya and formatted to be read easily on basic phones.
Jackqueline and Fred especially enjoy reading about Pretty's upcoming developmental milestones and how best to engage and play with her as she grows. Fred has also learned that it's best to smoke outside the home to protect his family from second-hand smoke.
At least 4 billion people own mobile phones around the world, and more than 6 billion have access to one (because many people share phones). However, less than half the world uses the internet, mostly because of the expense or a lack of access. This is why programs like Free Basics are so critical.
BabyCenter, a member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, works on many mobile health programs across the globe. Alongside the J&J Global Community Impact team and local organizations, they send free text and audio messages to parents in areas where access to healthcare is limited. Pregnant women, new mothers, and their family members receive helpful messages two or three times a week based on their due date or their child’s birth date.
Any nonprofit can apply to use these messages, which have been translated into 24 languages and localized for 29 countries, reaching more than 4 million families. In India, BabyCenter partnered with the nonprofit organization ARMMAN to develop mMitra®, a program that sends audio versions of the messages to pregnant women and new mothers in urban slum communities. More than 900,000 women have enrolled since 2014.
Fred and Pretty
Learning about Pretty’s development and looking up questions has brought Jackqueline and Fred closer together. Jackqueline misses her mother deeply, but she feels that BabyCenter offers her the guidance her mother might have provided and much more based on current medical research. This support and reassurance has boosted their confidence as parents. Mobile phones delivering quality information are empowering parents like them around the world every day. Please enjoy some of their heartfelt stories below.
Shaibu is a community health worker in Tanzania. “I use Free Basics to expand my knowledge on health topics, and it doesn’t cost me any data. My responsibility is to educate people about malaria, AIDS, and family planning. I use BabyCenter on Free Basics to talk to women about prenatal health and how to care for newborns. Connecting with people is my passion. When you give someone knowledge, you give them strength.”
After her son was born prematurely in India, Renu signed up for calls through the mMitra program. “Had it not been for mMitra, my premature baby would not have lived,” she says. After her son’s birth, her doctors simply sent the tiny baby home and told Renu and her husband to ‘take care of him’. “mMitra helped us through one of the most difficult times of our lives. The calls educated me about taking care of the baby. For instance, I wasn’t aware that I should be breastfeeding my baby for as long as he wants. Though breastfeeding wasn’t an easy task since the baby was very tiny, I did not give up,” she explains.
Swati calls the mMitra calls “a true friend and counselor.” “My husband Mahesh and I live by ourselves. When I got pregnant with Asmita there was no older person to turn to for an advice,” says Swati, who lives in Dharavi, a neighborhood in Mumbai, India, that is often called the largest slum in Asia. She nearly skipped important vaccinations for her daughter but credits mMitra with relieving her fears that her daughter was not healthy enough for her shots.
Pregnant women in Mexico.
In Mexico, Lola registered for a new program called Prospera Digital while she was pregnant and is still receiving text messages six months after her daughter’s birth. She is grateful that the messages helped her remember to go to her prenatal check-ups, resolve her breastfeeding challenges, and let her know when she could start feeding Julia solid foods. Lola says, “It’s a treasure to count on someone to guide you as a mom, that someone is telling you, ‘Look, this goes like this and that.’ One feels protected, like there is a person concerned about us and our children."
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