News / Africa

Cell Phone Text Technology Helps Promote Health in Senegal

Kids from nearby villages gather at the Mbosse health clinic to watch a play on malaria prevention
Kids from nearby villages gather at the Mbosse health clinic to watch a play on malaria prevention
Amanda Fortier

A pilot project in rural Senegal uses text messaging to remind women of upcoming doctor’s appointments and local health meetings.  

Health reminders

The sound of a text message, recognizable the world over, but in a small village tucked away down the sandy back-roads of Senegal, a few short beeps can be vital reminders.  For mothers living in and around the Mbosse, receiving an SMS (cellphone small message service, text) from their doctor’s helps keep themselves, and their babies, alive and healthy.

At the Mbosse health clinic, a hundred kilometers northeast of Dakar, villagers are gathered from more than a dozen nearby communities.  On one side of the courtyard are the men. They sit on white plastic chairs in the sand and under the shade of sprawling tents.  Off to the side, three young kids put on face paint and costumes in preparation for a skit on malaria prevention.

Next to them, on colorful woven mats, is a group of mothers.  They balance babies on their laps and spoon-feed a grainy mixture of dried fish, millet, tomato and peanuts into their tiny mouths.  In a corner, four young women sit around a board game called "safe motherhood" in the local Wolof language.  A young woman called Ndeye picks up a card from the deck.  It is a picture of a pregnant woman carrying a large bag on her head.

Ndeye says this card means that a woman who is pregnant should not be carrying heavy weight.  It is a risk.  It can be bad for her and bad for the baby.

Empowering families

It is all part of a five-year health plan funded by USAID to helping improve family health in rural Senegal.  150 women were given cell phones to keep them informed of upcoming doctor’s appointments -- before, during and after pregnancy -- to remind them of vital immunizations for their babies and to invite them to different health talks at the Mbosse health clinic.

Deguène Fall is in charge of the community health programs for Plan International in Thiès, one of five nongovernmental organizations collaborating on the SMS program.

Fall says it has been an excellent project for areas where women have difficulty in accessing health clinics -- either financially or geographically.  

Fall says that, before the cell phone project started, women only learned about health matters through discussions.  But many felt there was too much talking and got bored.  Fall says, when they came for their pre-natal consultations, doctors would write their next appointment down, but most of these women are illiterate.  Even with immunizations, they would forget because they were out working in the field or too busy helping in the house.  Fall says that now that they receive direct messages they do not usually forget.

Fatou Tine is a 25-year-old mother of four.  She joined the text message program a year ago during her last pregnancy, but continues to attend meetings on other health topics, such as diarrhea, malaria prevention, HIV and family planning. Fatou is illiterate and so is her husband.

Tine says the project has been useful for her because her last pregnancy was a lot easier than the three before.  Two days before every doctor’s appointment she got a text message.  But, because she cannot read, the person she lives with helped her.  Tine says that, in total, she received three messages during her pregnancy and four messages after to remind her about getting her baby vaccinated.

Health-care workers at the Mbosse clinic estimate about 95 percent of the women who receive texts do show up for their appointments.  And, many also join in the regular health meetings, bringing their friends or husbands along.

Program helps to keep health cost down

The costs of visits range from about 20 cents for a child and 65 cents for an adult.  Food and nutritional advice is 30 cents and medication is free.  Although these prices are subsidized by the state, it can still be a lot in an area where a single visit to the doctor can mean half a day’s income.

The African Child Policy Fund ranks Senegal 13th in health expenditure, below Burkina Faso and Chad but well above Ghana.  The Senegalese government spends slightly more than 12 percent of its annual budget on health.  That is more than richer countries, such as South Africa, Morocco or Egypt, but still falls short of targets, set by African leaders to spend 15 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) on health before 2015.

David Mugawe, an executive director of the African Child Policy Fund, says traditional means of communication are being sidelined.  Media is playing a big part in creating awareness and passing on information at a low cost.  Mothers can share experiences and learn from each other.

Mugawe says fathers are also being targeted because they make many of the decisions at home.  He says they are the breadwinners and have access to resources, so they need to be supportive of the mother by going to health centers with them, supporting the well-being of their children.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More