Solange Mukagande, 35, a mother of three, and resident of Taba village in Mayange Sector in Bugesera District, gave birth to her first two children from home with the help of a traditional birth attendant.
It all seemed fine until two women in her neighbourhood died while giving birth from home two years ago.
“It was a sad experience and when I got my third pregnancy, I decided to give birth from a health facility,” she says.
Solange made her first visit to a nearby health facility when she was two months pregnant, and was asked to report back four times before giving birth.
It was not as difficult as she imagined, since a Community Based Health Worker (CBHW) always visited her and reminded her of the appointment date with the doctor. The CBHW always got the information through a rapid SMS system.
Solange, who later successfully delivered her third child from a health centre, says that many women end up giving birth from home because they lack information.
She said giving birth from home is now history in her village since CBHWs were provided with the rapid SMS system.
What is Rapid SMS?
Rapid SMS is a phone application used to remind CBHWs and report cases of pregnant mothers, malnutrition, and co-ordination of vaccination programmes, among other things, not only to health centres but also the Ministry of Health.
Victor Ndaruhutse, a data manager at Bugesera Hospital, said the system, introduced in the district about two years ago, has seen the number of women giving birth from the facility increase.
He said the district has 1,743 volunteer CBHWs, spread out in 851 villages, with each having a Rapid SMS application enabled phone.
Jean Baptiste Byirirngiro, the manager of the Rapid SMS project at the Ministry of Health, said districts like Bugesera, Musanze, Rwamagana and Nyabihu, take the lead as far as implementation of Rapid SMS system is concerned.
Aline Irankuda, a CBHW in Nyamata Sector, Bugesera District, said that some phones they use are faulty and need replacement.
“Some areas also have no access to electricity and have to depend on solar energy to charge these phones,” she said.
She added that the system is a bit sophisticated for an ordinary, semi-literate rural person to use, and so refresher training is crucial.
The system (Rapid SMS) was first rolled out in 2009 by government with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and later the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica).
Unicef is involved with giving technical support in line with execution of the system, besides documenting it.
“Rwanda has done a good job as far as implementing of this SMS based system is concerned. It is an innovation worth emulating by other regional countries,” said Oliver Petrovic, Unicef Deputy Representative, Rwanda.
“The Korea government believes in universal access to health care, and it is the reason why we have invested $4.5 million in the system (Rapid SMS) since 2013,” said Hyeong Lae Cho, the country representative of Koica.