A small chip inserted inside an ordinary mobile phone is helping mothers, families, health workers, district officials and Ministry of Health staff to ensure that pregnant mothers receive the best health care.
This Rapid SMS initiative has provided mobile phones to over 17000 community health workers in Musanze district, Northern Rwanda to enable them to track and respond to pregnancy related complications.
The technology introduced by UNICEF in Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia is being used to collect and analyze data.
In Rwanda, the adoption of the technology kicked off with the sensitization of the local community health workers, hospital staff and the general public. One year later, the results are impressive.
Dr. John Kalach, the Director of Musanze Hospital, finds it very easy to help patients using rapid SMS technology. He says that it has most especially helped to improve service delivery for mothers and children.
“The new system helps us to identify and locate all pregnant mothers in the district. We are therefore able to consistently watch their health status and that of their children even after the delivery,” Dr Kalach says.
He explains that in the case of an emergency, rapid SMS helps in decreasing transit time from arrival to hospital to entering theatres and it thus reduces the rate of maternal deaths and other unexpected deaths caused by avoidable conditions.
“Upon sending a message, the community health worker receives key information from a central server on how to deal which each case. This has increased access to health care, and deaths have certainly reduced,” says Kalach.
Like Kalach, most community health workers as well as expectant and new parents bear witnesses to the improvement in health service delivery as a result of this technology.
“I never thought an SMS could save a life” Apoline Niyoyita, an expectant mother who also works as a community health work at Muhoza Health Centre says.
The mobile phones that Niyoyita and all her colleagues own have settings that enable them to share SMS’s free of charge, with doctors at nearby hospitals, as well as keep tabs on all pregnant women in her village.
Dr Friday Achilefu Nwaigwe, UNICEF’s Head of Health and Nutrition, believes that rapid SMS is an important tool in the fight against maternal mortality.
“We hope to extend rapid SMS technology from 9 to 40 district hospitals, and show to the world how a tiny chip can save lives” says Dr Nwaigwe.
He points out that even though the cost of ensuring modelling of this technology in 1 district has already been covered by UNICEF; more efforts are needed to scale up the project countrywide.