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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid