According to the World Health Organization, more than 800 women die each day from complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth. 99 per cent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries and occurrence rates are higher in rural areas and poorer communities.
A number of outreach programmes are currently operating in the field of maternal health, using mobile technology to bridge access gaps and provide vital and timely information to expectant mothers in developing regions. The initiative Zero Mothers Die was born out of a desire to scale up eHealth projects in the area of women’s health. The aim of the project, managed by a partnership of NGOs and private organisations, is to connect pregnant women to mobile technology so that they can receive healthcare information and keep in contact with health workers and midwives over the phone. Zero Mothers Die delivers 100,000 handsets per year (which are pink and are accompanied by a solar powered battery charger) to pregnant women in vulnerable areas. Tailored, language-specific voice messages are sent to the devices, relaying maternal health information such as warning signs to look out for, nutritional advice, HIV treatment and postnatal infant care and the team maintains contact with each mother from the first prenatal visit through to the child's second birthday.
Via technical partners such as Airtel, 36 million minutes of free airtime are allocated each year to the project (around 30 minutes per woman per month) so that pregnant women can contact emergency health phone numbers and stay in touch with local healthcare professionals. The team behind the project also engages in capacity building and training of local health workers using info-loaded, region-specific tablets and has set up a financing model to help women access proper medical services for the birth.
The programme first launched in Ghana in 2014 and, since then, has spread to Gabon, Mali, Nigeria and Zambia. Mobile penetration rates in sub-Saharan Africa are among the lowest in the world. In order to leverage the opportunities that mobile technology can bring to people with little or no access to healthcare, handsets first need to be placed in hands – exactly what Zero Mothers Die is trying to do. In an interview with Newsweek in 2014, project co-founder Dr. Véronique Inès Thouvenot explained the thinking behind this: “The idea was to utilise the new technologies to reach the mothers. Until two years ago, this technology was reaching the health care workers, midwives and doctors, but those pregnant mothers were not connected to the global system—that last mile.”