Reflecting on the “mHealth for Maternal Health: Bridging the Gaps” Technical Meeting

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By: Alison Chatfield, Project Manager, Maternal Health Task Force, Women and Health Initiative

Last week, 50 implementers, experts and donors from the mHealth and maternal health communities gathered in Boston for a meeting titled “mHealth for maternal health: bridging the gaps.” Throughout the two day meeting, the participants of this technical meeting grappled with the constraints to delivering high-quality, accessible and affordable maternal healthcare, discussed the opportunities for information and communication technologies to help alleviate those constraints, and outlined a shared “mHealth for maternal health” research agenda.

A prominent theme of the meeting was the need to improve the communication around the role of mobile technology in health as a pre-requisite for increased collaboration between mHealth and maternal health actors. Participants agreed that mobile technology should not be conveyed as a stand-alone health intervention, but rather a strategic tool for delivering maternal healthcare more effectively. The research questions posed by the group did not focus on whether mHealth works, but whether mHealth can deliver what we know works better than we are currently able to.

The meeting began with an illustrative case study that emphasized the need to position mHealth within a health systems approach to quality improvement before reflecting on results of a pre-meeting survey on the participants’ reflections on barriers and opportunities to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Expanding on the need to position mobile technology tools and strategies within a systematic approach to addressing barriers and opportunities, a logic model on the linkages between mHealth and health outcomes was presented.

A working mHealth vocabulary that is being developed by the WHO mobile Technical Evidence Review Group (mTERG) was shared, and participants suggested ways to refine this language to increase its acceptability within the maternal health community. In particular, finding explicit linkages between maternal health frameworks, redefining “quality” and positioning health, not technology, as the driver of innovation were all considered important.

A particularly exciting session featured a cross-section of 15 different projects where mHealth is being used to improve maternal health by working to increase client knowledge, provider competence and health system strength. All of the presentations are available here, and videos of these sessions are available here.

Day 2 of the meeting focused on evidence, specifically, understanding what kinds of evidence were important to donors, managers and implementers. The need for reporting standards so that every project using mobile technology is able to communicate its theory of change and results in a harmonized way was considered a top priority amongst participants.  Participants outlined ways they can contribute to building the evidence base and creating a shared research agenda, including increasing collaborations between academics and implementers. Participants emphasized that while additional research may not be needed about the benefits of digital data collection systems to improve data-based decision-making, more evidence around areas where it was considered “riskier” to use technology, such as during emergency obstetric situations, may be.

Participants of the meeting agreed that it is important that mHealth not be considered a panacea, while acknowledging that increasing access to information and communication technologies in settings where maternal death and disability are highest constitutes new opportunities for improving outcomes.

Further reflections from the mHealth for maternal health: bridging the gaps technical meeting will be featured in our mHealth for maternal health blog series. A meeting report will be made available shortly.

Do you have an opinion about using mHealth to improve maternal health? Contribute a post to our blog series! Get in touch with Yogeeta Manglani,