South Africa, 17 December 2013: Supporting pregnant women’s journey to motherhood
Currently in its pilot phase, a programme supported by UNICEF is playing an integral role in connecting pregnant women and mothers to healthcare. MomConnect relies on mobile technology to convey critical healthcare messages to women’s mobile phones, and ensures that healthcare workers know where and when to follow up when mother and baby pairs miss important appointments and check-ups. On the clinic level, it updates women’s medical records on the MomConnect network, ensuring that women can be tracked even if they do not return to the same facility where they signed up.
KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA, 17 December 2013 - The young woman squints up at the blue skies, hoping that the balmy weather will hold for her long walk to the clinic. Protectively, Neliswa Mzobe folds her hands over the small bump protruding from her stomach as she leaves her home.
Today marks the beginning of her twenty-second week of being pregnant. Neliswa does not have a partner to assist her during this time or once the baby is born, but thanks to a programme supported by UNICEF, her journey to motherhood is not a lonely one.
“It’s my first pregnancy and I am excited and nervous at the same time” says the young woman. “But I feel empowered and prepared not only for the rest of my pregnancy, but also to be a mother.”
Healthcare to mothers and babies going mobile
When Neliswa realised that she was pregnant, she initially felt overwhelmed at the prospect of being a single mother. That was until one of the nurses at her local clinic, Lerato Molefe, encouraged her to sign up for the UNICEF-supported MomConnect programme.
The MomConnect system keeps tracks of critical milestones and appointments during and after pregnancy, and triggers the sending of text messages related to healthcare and important dates to the woman’s mobile phone.
“I immediately felt less alone,” says Neliswa. “I might not have a partner at home to assist me, but receiving text messages to my phone is helping me to remember all the important things to attend to as a pregnant woman and mother-to-be.”
Instead of Neliswa having to keep track of important follow-up dates and appointments, she receives reminder text messages to remind her to visit her local clinic. She will continue receiving these messages until her baby turns 18 months.
“The reason I came in today, was because I received a MomConnect message to my mobile phone,” says Neliswa. “It reminded me to come to the clinic for a check-up. If it wasn’t for MomConnect, I might have missed out on this important appointment.”
Keeping up with migrating mothers-to-be
MomConnect not only relies on mobile technology to improve healthcare, it’s also an answer to the physical mobility of mothers-to-be. Like many other women in the region, Neliswa might not always visit the same clinic. This makes the tracking of patients quite challenging. Part of the MomConnect programme’s inventiveness, is that it links the already existing medical registry to an electronic data base that can be accessed from all MomConnect clinics in the region.
“They explained to me that even if I register at one facility but go somewhere else for my check-up, they will be able to keep track of my appointments,” says Neliswa. “And even if I go to different facilities, I will still receive text messages as my phone number is linked to my electronic records.”
Healthworkers reaching out to mothers in communities
Taking the system a step further, MomConnect also communicates any important messages with regards to a particular woman to healthworkers.
“As soon as Neliswa misses an appointment, MomConnect will generate an alert that will be picked up by us at the clinic,” says Lerato. “That’s how I will know to send a healthcare worker to follow up with her wherever she is in the community.”
As Neliswa leaves the clinic, she feels reassured once again that her pregnancy will be a journey of health and great joy, with UNICEF supporting her and other women on the journey to motherhood.
MomConnect is still in its pilot phase. The next phase of the programme will focus on scaling the programme up and rolling it out in other South African regions or provinces.
Click on the MomConnect infographic below to download the PDF file:
More stories from South Africa
More on maternal and newborn health
More on PMTCT