The Role of mHealth for a Post-2015 Agenda

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By: Kirsten Gagnaire, Executive Director, Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA)

This post is part of our recurring series, mHealth Monday

As the international development community increasingly shifts its focus to a post-2015 agenda, we must reflect on how the world has changed since the Millennium Development Goals were adopted. For example, the mobile industry has grown dramatically over the last decade. At the end of 2003, there were a little more than one billion unique mobile subscribers. Today there are seven billion, and four out of five new mobile connections occur in the developing world.

This proliferation has helped initiatives like MAMA, Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, grow from an idea to a cross-sector alliance that is helping more than 1.3 million women access vital health information right in the palm of their hands. It is important that we leverage our successes and move forward in ways that bring advances in maternal, newborn and child health to larger numbers women and children. When looking at the role of mHealth, and specifically mobile messaging, we have an exciting opportunity to collaborate at the highest levels and be even more strategic about our work.

By integrating our programs with ministries of health (MOH) and syncing our health messages with pregnancy registrations, we have the potential to scale our work to new heights, expanding our reach as seamlessly as possible. By connecting directly to the woman’s health records, we will have access to data that can help the mHealth community measure its impact more effectively. And by syncing with MOH pregnancy registries, we also support the work of governments to track the number of pregnancies and health outcomes and, therefore, support them in better serving women and children.

One example is in South Africa, where the local MAMA team has been working closely with the South African National Department of Health (NDoH) on their new pregnancy registry, messaging and help desk program that will be launched in the coming months.

By linking directly with pregnancy registries, we will be able to reach greater numbers of women more efficiently, giving us the true opportunity for scale up. Of course, we’ll always need to do more targeted outreach to those most in need, as we do in Bangladesh through community health workers, brand promoters and other outreach officers. As more women at all levels of the economic and health spectrums have access to mobile messages, the gap between the privileged and most vulnerable will shrink.

Mobile technology transcends geographic and socioeconomic boundaries, allowing for an opportunity to reach populations that were previously unreachable and those that most need access to information, goods and services. Pregnancy is a pivotal time in a woman’s life and one when informed choices can create generations of healthy, happy women and children. By integrating mobile messaging during pregnancy, and through formal health channels, we will realize the true power of mobile to bridge the digital divide.

As we turn to post-2015 goals and begin to address development challenges in a more holistic, integrated way, mobile is a key tool to provide women the access to health-related and other information and services that will help them improve their lives and the lives of their children.