mhealth: Mobile Phones to expand demand for, and use of ANC/PMTCT services in rural Uganda

Any development agenda in Uganda must look beyond the city
and for a simple reason, over 80% of the total population lives in rural areas.

Almost 70% of the world’s mobile phone
subscribers are in the developing world. As an affordable and accessible means
of communication, both men and women are realizing the potential of this
technology to create economic opportunities and strengthen social networks in
rural areas. The mobile phone is no longer just a communication tool but one
that`s capable of providing additional integrated functions.
Today, mobile telephony is being
used to provide information on health, Agriculture, Education and
entrepreneurship to rural communities through Short Message Service (SMS) and
multi-media supported systems in many parts of Uganda and Africa at large. This
has been made possible through public, private and NGO sector initiatives.
According to the 2010 MDG
progress report for Uganda, maternal health indicators for Uganda have
generally remained poor in the last two decades. Over the period of 1995-2000
maternal mortality stagnated about 505 deaths per 100,000 live births. The
Uganda demographic and health survey of 2006 estimated Maternal Mortality Ratio
(MMR) at 435 deaths per 100,000 live births, making a total reduction of only
70 deaths per 100,000 live births in half a decade.
The 2007 ministry of health
expenditure survey in Uganda clearly indicates that the main causes of maternal
morbidity and mortality in Uganda have overtime been considered preventable and
or treatable. These common causes include but are not limited to; abortion,
haemorrhage, sepsis and obstructed labour.
As a result of this, The
Netherlands National committee for UNICEF in partnership with UNICEF Kampala, the Ministry of Health, Text to Change,
The Association of Volunteers in
International Service (AVSI), and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are
implementing an intervention to increase
ANC and PMTCT attendance by educating communities about Antenatal care (ANC) /Prevention
of mother to child Transmission(PMTCT) services and HIV/AIDS prevention in
western and Northern Uganda.  
The project will use available
technology, mainly the mobile phones to educate and mobilize mothers, families
and community members to demand for ANC and PMTCT services. Through the short
Message service (SMS), mothers will be reminded about ANC appointments, PMTCT
services and their importance as well as provide information about HIV/AID and
Malaria prevention.
Mobile telephony is the most
preferred technology for this health intervention because it effectively
reduces the “distance” between individuals and institutions making sharing of
information and knowledge easier and more effective. The benefits of mobile
phones are amplified by the fact that the spread of mobile technology in some
rural areas has occurred much faster than with other information & communication
technologies (ICTs). In a country like Uganda, mobile technology has quickly
become much more cost effective for telecommunication provision.
Despite these benefits of the
mobile phone, challenges like high costs of handsets, limited network coverage
and limited usage capacity still exist but these are being solved by the
potential of new models of phones that combine text, audio and video to be used
in a more systematic manner that enables sharing of user generated multimedia
content.

The chances of success and sustainability of
rural health services that are based on mobile telephony are greater when they
do not duplicate services provided by existing information sources such as the
kiosks, telecentres , digital doorways and information centres.