Getting Health Literally Into Women’s Hands

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May 30, 2013

I’m writing to you from the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in Malaysia, attending the Women Deliver 2013 Conference where 4,000 attendees share the vision that the health and freedom of women and girls is key to the future of our planet, our world economy and our families.

Women DeliverIn the words of Hillary Clinton, “We declare reproductive healthcare is essential to the health of women and women’s health is essential to the health of everyone.”

Technology is a huge factor in driving women’s health. I’m particularly fascinated with the incredible work being done in the mobile health, or mHealth sector.

Pioneering programs are customizing and targeting highly localized content to help women have healthier babies. Imagine if you had strange cramping in your sixth month of pregnancy, and didn’t know why. In the US, so many of us have access to age and stage specific information, from our doctors to our favorite mom blogs or Facebook.

In countries where this information is more difficult to access, services like MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action) create highly detailed age and stage specific content for expecting and new moms, delivered via text, voice call, or mobile web. 120 million moms can get crucial family planning info through this service, which will result in approximately 1.1 million fewer newborn and infant deaths. The key to this content is its culturally sensitive tone and its ability to work within country specific settings.

Mobile access is consistently high around the world in both rich and poor nations, and phones are a very personal and private delivery system. In South Africa, 30 percent of women of childbearing age are HIV positive. When women sign up for messaging programs we can also ask them, “Would you like to receive HIV related messages?” as a subtle and private way to deliver content.

In the rural state of Bihar, India, only one-third of adult women own their own phone, but 83 percent of women have access to one. Bihar has among the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in India, but also one of the most rapidly expanding mobile markets; mobile phones outnumber water taps and toilets. BBC Media Action in India is developing Kilkari, a service that provides weekly calls linked to pregnancy, birth and infant health in a male voice to reach the man of the house, who is likely the owner of the phone.

mHealth is not a magic cure for maternal and child health, but in areas where there isn’t easy access to health professionals, it is the best way to literally get health into women’s hands.

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Catch up on the Women Deliver 2013 Conference here. Follow #WD2013 on Twitter, and like Women Deliver on Facebook. Learn more about MAMA here.

Women_Deliver_MAM_image_2Morra Aarons-Mele is the Founder of Women Online and The Mission List.

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