The power of mobile telephones is still to be fully realised when it comes to creating solutions for health challenges. But one way in which it is already making a big impact is in maternal and antenatal healthcare in rural India.
Access to mobile technologies has spread throughout the developing world at a pace that will soon make such technology ubiquitous. None more so than in India where by 2019 it is projected that there will be close to 180 million smartphones, and where there are already more than one billion mobile phones in use. The penetration of smartphones into rural areas is also on the rise: between 2011 and 2015 this increased from 22 percent to 38 percent.
Yet sometimes these advances in low cost digital services that are improving livelihoods and quality of life in low resource settings are not reaching the people who would benefit most. And often, these people are women. Women in rural India are often not empowered with the decision-making role in the home or indeed do not have their own incomes to enable them with access to technology like mobile phones due to socio-cultural practices.
So what happens when they need access to more information, or expert help for example during pregnancy? NGOs are now partnering with local governments across India to scale up simple mobile technology that empower the people ready to help these women: the accredited social health activists (ASHAs).
Crucially, these tech interventions recognise the unique situation of many rural and urban women from lower socio-economic communities and their lack of access to this technology. By empowering their community health workers with information they are directly benefitting both the health workers and mothers in the community.
In Uttar Pradesh, this programme has improved community health workers’ medical knowledge, enabling them to better advise patients, as well as the frequency of home visits by these workers which doubled over a two-year period. Expectant mothers’ knowledge of pregnancy danger signs also improved by 43%, as well as attendance at antenatal check-ups – over the course of the project expectant mothers undergoing three or more antenatal check-ups increased by 58%.
Another programme launched last year in Bangalore — the mHealth app – enables government health professionals to better monitor and boost the health and nutritional status of underprivileged women, thereby reducing possible health risks to the mother and baby during pregnancy. Mothers receive counselling messages with multimedia features through the app, operated by healthcare workers, as well as other vital healthcare information including around immunisation for children under the age of two.
More such Information and Communication Technology solutions for health challenges (commonly called ICT4D) are already in the pipeline; and impact is best realised when we come together across sectors to share our insights, best practice and latest innovations in the mission to achieve Good Health and Wellbeing – Sustainable Development Goal number three.
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This article was a collaboration by heads of World Vision International and Catholic Relief Services. Catholic Relief Services and World Vision are partners of the ICT4D Conference to be held in Hyderabad 15-18 May 2017. Participants—technical experts, programme managers and executives from a myriad of disciplines, representatives of governmental, non-governmental and private sector organizations, individuals from countries across the globe—will discuss strategies and best practice for applying big data, geospatial solutions, frontier technologies and partnerships to development challenges.