Going Digital: Taking the Maternal Health Community Online

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By: Janna Oberdorf, Communications Manager, Women Deliver

The Global Maternal Health Conference has ended – and ended with a bang. The “Maternal Health Digital” panel closed the conference with exciting, new, and innovative ways for using technology for global health and maternal health issues. Advances in tools for cross-media storytelling, social networking, digital games, real-time messaging, and mobile and location-aware technologies are being adapted to fit the needs of the maternal health community—and are helping to fuel the increased momentum around the issue.

Here are some of the highlights, but watch the full session to get all the details:

  • Subhi Quraishi at ZMQ Software Systems talked about using mobile gaming for edutainment, for awareness-raising, and for care support and treatment. Many of us know about using mobile technology for health information, i.e. setting an SMS alert for prenatal and postnatal care for rural women that says, “ultrasound test due” or “time for your child’s polio vaccine.” But ZMQ has launched programs that teach women about their health through games and entertainment. They also have projects in the works that target one woman with a mobile phone and offer her microfinance opportunities if she shares the information with a network of women in her community.
  • Kinga Jelinska spoke about her project, www.womenonweb.org, a telemedical non-profit service helping women access Mifepristone and Misoprostol in countries with restrictive access to safe abortion. Though Jelinska talked about the need to offer safe medical abortion services to women around the world, many audience members had questions about her project – How can you determine gestation period? How do you ensure a woman who has complications receives care? How can women in low-resource settings afford the expensive medicine? Visit her website to learn more about the project.
  • Kiran Bapna, from Google, talked about the brand-new launch of Health Speaks. Combining the power of local expertise with efficient online tools like the Google Translator Toolkit, Health Speaks aims to efficiently increase the amount of quality health information available online in local languages by out-sourcing (or crowd sourcing) it to volunteers.

Many new online tools, like Google’s Health Speaks, rely on the power of volunteers and their knowledge. This trust is something that is hard for many professional health experts to believe in – yet it opens so many doors to innovative ideas. During mini-presentations, others talked about the power of putting technology into the hands of the people in the field through: online reporting (Pulitzer Center’s Dying for Life); crowd-sourcing through online survey and discussion forums for midwives, nurses, and doctors (Global Voices); and interactive mapping of maternal health organizations (Maternal Health Task Force).

Though it may be difficult for researchers and experts to hand the reins of collecting and disseminating information to those in cyberspace – this is the future of maternal health. We have to have some level of trust in our cyber advocates and activists, but still maintain a watchful eye on their outputs and inputs.