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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs