Technology For Mothers Is Making A Difference

Goal 5: Improve Maternal HealthThis is part of our year-long series “Millennium Development Goals Tech Roadmap”

Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health

Target  5A: Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio

Target 5B: Achieve universal access to reproductive health

Maternal mortality has nearly halved worldwide in the last 20 years.  Goal 5 correlates with Goal 4 of reducing child mortality.  Improved maternal health is not only important to saving the mother’s life, but also for their baby. Only half of pregnant women in developing countries received the recommended minimum of four antenatal care visitations.

While births by doctors, midwives and other skilled health providers has increased over the years, health disparities continue to be seen in the poorest and most marginalized regions, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the world’s largest maternal mortality ratio.  The mortality rate has decreased by two-thirds in East and South Asia and North Africa.

Maternal mortality tends to be lower in regions where there is access to contraception and skilled care.  According to a UN report, 140 million married women globally say they would like to delay or avoid pregnancy, but don’t have access to contraception.  Because of cultural and religious customs in many regions of the world, many women don’t have a choice when it comes to their bodies.

Lack of education among women also continues to be a problem.  The risk of maternal death is 2.7 times higher among females with no education, and two times higher among females with one to six years of education than for females with more than 12 years of education.

Most maternal deaths in the developing world are caused by preventable circumstances, such as poor nutrition, access to family planning and emergency obstetric care.  Worldwide, there have been efforts by both government and civil agencies to improve maternal health, including better training for community health workers, addressing violence against women, and even providing cash incentives to women who give birth in public health centers.

Technology has also helped to improve maternal health.  In addition to the tech innovations included in Goal 4, there are many efforts around text messaging.  UNICEF launched the RapidSMS system in Rwanda.  Expectant women can track their pregnancies and report any complications to a skilled health provider.  Users can also subscribe to receive emergency alerts if complications occur.  The initiative also provides real-time surveillance on maternal health throughout the country.

The Mobile Alliance For Maternal Action (MAMA) also uses mobile technology.  They are currently developing projects in South Africa, India and Bangladesh.  Using a smartphone, expectant mothers can get receive personalized information based on their due date and other milestones.  The South African initiative sends text messages in five languages – English, Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans.  MAMA also sends pre-recorded voice messages to users who have literacy challenges.  The organization uses social media tool MXit to target both men and women ages 18 to 25 about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting.

Here is a video that describes the South African initiative.

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