How an sms can save a life
By Sam Nkurunziza
July 2010 - A small chip inserted inside an ordinary mobile phone is helping mothers, families, health workers, district officials and Ministry of Health staff ensure that pregnant mothers receive the best health care.
This Rapid SMS initiative has provided mobile phones to over 17,000 community health workers in Musanze district, Northern Rwanda to enable them to track and respond to pregnancy related complications. The technology introduced by UNICEF in Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia is being used to collect and analyze data.
In Rwanda, the adoption of the technology kicked off with the sensitization of the local community health workers, hospital staff and the general public. Just one year later, the results seem impressive. Dr John Kalach, the Director of Musanze Hospital finds it very easy to help patients using rapid SMS technology. He says that it has most especially helped to improve service delivery for mothers and children. This has increased access to health care and deaths have certainly reduced,” says Kalach.
Just like Kalach, most of the community health workers and the parents bear witnesses to the improvement in health service delivery as a result of this technology. “I never thought an SMS could save a life”. Apoline Niyoyita, an expectant mother who also works as a community health work at Muhoza Health Centre says. The mobile phone which Niyoyita and all her colleagues own has settings which enable her to share free short text messages with doctors at nearby hospitals as well as keep tabs on all pregnant women in her village.
Dr Friday Achilefu Nwaigwe, UNICEF’s Chief of Health and Nutrition believes that rapid SMS is an important tool in the fight against maternal mortality. “We hope to expand rapid SMS technology from 9 to 40 district hospitals and show to the world how a little chip can save lives”, says Dr Nwaigwe. He says that even though all costs to ensure modelling of this technology in 1 district has already been covered by UNICEF, more efforts are needed to scale up the project country wide.