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At a glance: Nigeria

In Nigeria, a message for maternal and child health

By Blessing Ejiofor

In Nigeria, UNICEF and partners are promoting maternal, newborn and child health services through mobile phone messages sent to mothers in their local language. 

EPE, Nigeria, 15 August 2014 – As her number is called out, Nike Kolawole stands up and straps her 2-year-old son to her back and walks over to the nurse.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2014/Ejiofor
Nike Kolawole shows her MNCH text message to Funke Adeleye, Chief Matron of the Epe Primary Health Care centre.

The nurse registers her for antenatal care and gives her folate tablets, as well as vitamin A and deworming tablets for her son, Samuel, who is also tested for malaria.

Ms. Kolawole says she knows she should have sought health care earlier, but the health centre in her community lacks just about everything.

“When we go there, they just tell us to come back some other time, because there is no medicine to give us or no nurse to attend to us,” she says.

Ms. Kolawole changed her mind when she received text and voice messages on her mobile phone in her local Yoruba dialect announcing a maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) week to be held in her state.

The message detailed the nearest medical facilities to visit and on which day, what services would be available, and what health supplies participants would receive.

“This is a new thing to us” Ms. Kolawole says. “We live far away from the local government and do not get to hear about this kind of thing easily.”


A fishing town on the outskirts of Lagos, Epe has limited roads and transportation, hindering the social outreach and mobilization efforts that play a vital role in ensuring access to maternal and health services.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2014/Ejiofor
An MNCH week text message in Yoruba dialect, sent to women of reproductive age in Lagos state

With mobile communications, however, UNICEF and partners can reach mothers and pregnant women throughout Lagos state, no matter how remote they are.

“These populations of women, who were probably missed out over the years, have now become only a text or voice message away,” says Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.  

Changing times

At the Epe Primary Health Care (PHC) centre, the women start to gather as early as 6 a.m., even before the staff arrive for work.

“The turnout this time is massive,” says Ms. Funke Adeleye, Chief Matron at the Epe PHC. “We are seeing a lot more women coming for the services than what we had been seeing before, and when some of them come, they show us the text message on their phones.”

On average, the centre used to see about 140 women and children a day during MNCH week. Today, the number of attendees is more than twice as high.

Empowering women

Nigeria has some of the world’s highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates. One child in 12 dies in the first year, and one in eight does not live to age 5. Among women, the lifetime risk of maternal death is one in 23.

© UNICEF Nigeria/2014/Ejiofor
Samuel, Ms. Kolawole's son, gets tested for malaria at the Epe PHC.

Better access to primary health care can reduce deaths through prevention and early treatment. For this reason, SMS technology has tremendous potential not only for social mobilization but also for empowering women to take charge of their health and that of their children.

There are 127 million active mobile phones in Nigeria, according to data from the country’s Communications Commission. Leveraging this huge user base, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Private Sector Health Alliance, the Association of Mobile Phone Operators, the Federal

Ministry of Health and VAS2Nets, a mobile services company, have now successfully piloted the use of mobile messaging for MNCH week in Lagos and Kano states, sending out free text and voice messages to women of reproductive age.

Popular demand

At the Epe PHC, women come armed with their text messages and demand to get their services and supplies as promised. Ms. Adeleye calls it a positive development.

“Where is my net?” one of the women asks the nurse while pointing to her mobile phone. “See? It’s in the text message I got.”

The high turnout has meant the centre ran out of the insecticide-treated nets that were being handed out to participants.

The Chief Matron was still waiting on more supplies to be sent by the local government.



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