Mobile money to improve maternal health, an African story

posted by guest writer Patricia Mtungila* from Lilongwe, Malawi

Healthcare in Africa is reaching a whole new dimension with the introduction of mobile money to health systems. Mobile money itself takes many local names by the countries but be it Mpesa in Kenya or Mpamba in Malawi, the power of these mobile money services is now being harnessed to take reproductive health services, health insurance and and universal health coverage to those who needed most, the poor masses of rural Africa.

Sharing her story at the Africa Regional Meeting on Digital Health**, Erica Layer of D-Tree tells the success of the lives of women in Zanzibar who have had safe digital deliveries in medical facilities as opposed to the age-old norm of home delivery which has been a part of life in Zanzibar until recently.

Through a mobile-money based initiative, D-Tree transfers mobile money into the mobile phones held by community health volunteers who monitor pregnant women. In this way, through the mobile phones they are able to closely link the health centres with the expectant mothers by keeping the health officials informed about health status of pregnant women living in their areas in between medical centre visits. At the time of delivery, the community volunteers inform the health facilities and communicate with a network of taxi drivers in charge of providing the transport to the hospitals.

Despite its huge success, D-Tree’s m-health initiatives in Zanzibar are not without challenges: Erica Layer highlights difficulties in forecasting transport needs of the mothers, the need for a culture of digital reporting and accountability among the community volunteers. She also calls for improvement in connectivity and in an automated medical record system. Nevertheless, the programme has been hugely successful and will be scaled out to Tanzania.

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* Patricia Mtungila works as communication officer at UbuntuNet Alliance, the regional Research and Education Networking organization for Eastern and Southern Africa (NRENs). She got the scholarship to take part in the ICT4D course run by Ong 2.0 since February. Follow her on Twitter and on her blog.
** It’s a three-day regional conference on mobile and digital health supported by USAID and the UN Foundation and kicked off in Lilongwe, Malawi (13-15 May 2015). The meeting aimed to tackle how the use of digital health can overcome barriers to ending preventable child and maternal deaths and help achieve universal health coverage.