Innovations for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health - an initiative of Concern Worldwide

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Innovations for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health

An initiative of Concern Worldwide

MALAWI: MNCH Access Through Mobile Technology

Pilot Status:
  • 1. Planning
  • 2. Consultation
  • 3. Prototyping
  • 4. Pilot Testing
  • 5. Evidence to Action

The Project

Chipatala Cha Pa Foni (Health Center by Phone) offers women in Balaka District, Malawi, access to health advice from health professionals via a toll-free hotline. Innovations piloted this project from July 2011 to October 2013.

The Need

Despite strong improvements in MNCH service delivery in Malawi, rural communities continue to face significant challenges to accessing health care. Getting medical care in Balaka – a rural region with difficult terrain and poor infrastructure – is often a luxury. As a result, women and children in Balaka continue to experience some of the worst health outcomes in Malawi. Chipatala Cha Pa Foni (Health Center by Phone) connects patients to health workers for immediate access to personalized health advice, tips and appointment reminders by phone.

Health Center By Phone in Malawi

An Innovations field test in one district in Malawi showed such promise that the project is expanding to reach thousands more pregnant women and child caregivers.

  • Governments and development agencies have long pondered how to bridge the divide between rural communities and life-saving health services in the absence of adequate funding to increase health workers and facilities.

    Chipatala Cha Pa Foni (Health Center by Phone) offers one solution to bridge the gap in health service delivery in Malawi. This innovation uses the cellphone – the most widely used communications technology – to connect people living in isolated, rural areas to health professionals who would otherwise be unreachable.

    While phone consultations cannot substitute for direct medical care, they can equip mothers and caregivers with the knowledge to make more informed health decisions for themselves and their families. By leveraging existing communications technology, women are offered more and easier avenues to partake in Malawi’s health system.

  • The toll-free case management hotline makes it easier for women in Balaka District, Malawi, to access MNCH services with:

    • On-demand health advice: Women who cannot go to a health facility can call and speak with staff at the Balaka District Hospital for health information, advice and referrals.

    • Automated health tips: Callers can subscribe to an automated “Tips and Reminders” service for personalized health messages by SMS or voice that encourage moms to seek medical care earlier rather than later.

    Community volunteers from the village are trained and provided with phones to ensure that these services are known by and available to all women, including those without a phone.

  • Results from the Chipatala Cha Pa Foni (CCPF) pilot suggest the effectiveness of mHealth in promoting MNCH outcomes. Program evaluation yielded promising results:

    • Over 6,000 users subscribed to the “Tips and Reminders” service and over 11,000 calls were made in the first two years.
    • Accessing antenatal care early increased by 30%.
    • Less than one-quarter of calls resulted in a referral to a health facility, thereby reducing unnecessary visits to health facilities.

    Our successes demonstrate that mHealth services can promote earlier uptake of MNCH services, increase access to essential health information, lessen health worker burden and begin to close the gap in health disparities in resource-limited areas.

    Concern Malawi is replicating CCPF’s toll-free case management and messaging services in Nkhotakota District, in the Central Region of Malawi. CCPF will be incorporated into a broader project including family planning services and youth organizing. Additional hotline workers have been employed to cope with extra calls to the Balaka call center from a new district, thus demonstrating the adaptability of the CCPF model and how it can be an element of a larger approach to strengthening health systems and overcoming barriers to access. Read more about what we’ve learned here.