I was recently able to view several sessions from the Global Maternal Health Conference 2013 online, and was particularly interested to hear about the maternal health texting programs and trials discussed in the “Mobile phones for maternal health” session.
The Russian NGO that I work for, the Health and Development Foundation, is also involved in using SMS messaging to improve maternal health. One of our nationwide programs is Text4baby Russia (“SMS Mame” in Russian) which provides new and expectant mothers with health information via free text messages to their mobile phones. Subscribers receive 1-2 texts per week on topics like nutrition, safety, substance abuse prevention, and breastfeeding. Funding for the program comes from Johnson & Johnson.
Although Text4baby Russia is based on the successful U.S. program Text4baby, it was significantly adapted by HDF and its government and medical community partners to ensure that the messages meet the specific cultural and socio-economic needs of its Russian target audience. For example, Russian mothers have access to specific government benefit packages for the birth of a child, so naturally a cycle of messages address this topic, while others address legal rights for working mothers.
Text4baby Russia is intended as a general health guideline and system of reminders to encourage women to engage in healthy behaviors and visit their doctors in accordance with a generally accepted timeline. These reminders are also intended to jumpstart conversations between mothers and doctors, which is particularly useful in Russia, where the relationship between doctor and patient has traditionally been more of a paternalistic, one-way communication than a dialogue. At the same time, we have worked to use communication in a positive way that engages doctors as program supporters, and to emphasize that our program doesn’t advocate any specific medical treatments or procedures and is not intended to take their place in providing medical advice.
In addition to the information provided in text messages, we’ve also decided to include a webinar component in the program, which we’ll launch this spring. These will be live, interactive webinars, in which current and potential subscribers can learn more about text message topics from medical experts and hear from their peers as well – we expect this to be both a way to increase the amount of topical, trustworthy health information available to women, and an effective recruitment instrument for new subscribers.
A new mHealth initiative: IVF and mHealth
HDF just launched a new nationwide mHealth program in January 2013. This initiative, IVF/ART School, is aimed at informing and supporting women and families undergoing assisted reproductive technology treatment. Like many organizations developing public health behavior change programs in the last several years, we’ve become convinced that mHealth components can increase the effectiveness of traditional educational methods, and vice versa.
IVF/ART School will reach its core audience through offline seminars with reproductive health specialists at clinics; social networks, a program site, and regular webinars online; and text messages to participants’ mobile phones. This comprehensive approach will enable us to maintain a strong connection with our target audience, each component informing and reinforcing program messages, and provide them with multiple chances for interaction with peers and experts.