MALAWI: MNCH Access Through Mobile TechnologyMalawi
- 1. Planning
- 2. Consultation
- 3. Prototyping
- 4. Pilot Testing
- 5. Evidence to Action
Balaka has some of the lowest maternal and child health indicators in all of Malawi. A largely rural region, women and children often have to travel long distances across difficult terrain to see a health professional, making medical services an often inaccessible luxury. To overcome these physical barriers, Innovations is using information and communications technologies to connect pregnant women, caretakers and children to health workers, thereby giving them immediate access to personalized health advice, tips and appointment reminders by phone.
This approach has four key components, all of which work to break down selected barriers and make it easier to access health services. The first is the toll-free case management hotline, Chipatala cha pa foni (Health Center by Phone), that connects callers to health experts at Balaka District Hospital by phone. The hotline experts provide health information and advice on maternal, neonatal and child health issues to callers who may not be able to easily access an in-person consultation. The hotline also gives callers an option to enroll in the second component: a service that delivers automated and personalized health tips straight to their phones by SMS or voice. This service is also critical to the third component, a health center booking system for ANC and PNC visits in which patients have specific dates for follow-up care and reminders via SMS. The fourth component, community demand generation via a cadre of volunteers trained and supervised by the project, supports all of these information systems by making sure that communities understand their existence and how to access them.
This approach uses convenient and widely used communications technology to connect people living in isolated, rural areas to health professionals who would otherwise be unreachable. While phone consultations and SMS messaging systems cannot take the place of direct medical services, they can give mothers and caretakers the knowledge to make better health decisions for themselves and their families and make them a more active, committed participant in Malawi’s health system.
Integrating technology into the health system can empower users by giving them greater control on when and how they interact with a system that can be intimidating and difficult to navigate. In Malawi, community members have used the hotline for advice, for providing updates on their post-referral health status, and even for reporting suboptimal experiences at health centers. Technology can thus create mechanisms for meeting community needs and expectations, providing a two-way channel in which mothers and caretakers are better informed and more engaged in the health of their families and health service delivery is strengthened through end-user feedback, analysis of common queries, etc.