Pioneering the Mobile for Reproductive Health program

A version of this post originally appeared on United Nations Foundation’s Global Accelerator. Reposted with permission.

Did you know that 220 million women and girls have unmet needs for family planning? In particular, Tanzania has one of the lowest doctor-patient ratios in the world — 1 doctor for every 50,000 patients. With those limitations, how are individuals supposed to make informed choices about their health when they can’t access information about their options?

This is a question being asked by the maternal health and global health community. As studies have shown, improved access to comprehensive sexuality education and modern contraception increases opportunities throughout a woman’s life. This includes the ability to pursue education and earn an income leading to a healthier life for a woman, her children and her family.

With mobile technologies advancing in developing countries, we can now get health information and support to many more women and couples. Text messaging (SMS) in particular, offers benefits:

  • Messages are available to all mobile phone users regardless of phone type.
  • Mobile phone users typically carry them everywhere, making maximum program reach likely.
  • In many cases, text messages are less expensive than voice calls.
  • Text messages can be automated and efficiently delivered, reaching many people.

With this in mind, I developed Mobile for Reproductive Health or m4RH, in 2010 with FHI 360, Text to Change, and ministries of health and NGO partners in Tanzania and Kenya. Our goal was to empower citizens with health information and choices that were often hard to come by prior to mobile phones. Despite the critical shortages of trained health personnel in Tanzania and Kenya, this program is now providing people with essential, user-friendly information about the full range of family planning methods.

This graphic shows the breakdown of how the m4RH mobile program works:

The results? The m4RH data has shown the power of mobile phones on health impacts. Each month in Tanzania, more than 10,000 new young people, adult women and men, and urban and rural residents access objective, comprehensive and user-friendly reproductive health information via text message through m4RH. The initial results were promising — about half of m4RH users were male, the majority were 24 years old or younger, but all age groups used m4RH, and m4RH was used by 98 percent of the districts in Tanzania. As a result, we added more in-depth information about contraception, role model stories showing positive use of contraception and health services, and tailored content for young people.

Knowledge is power, and through simple mobile phone solutions, we can provide better family planning access to communities to empower them to make informed choices for improved health.

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