Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mobile technology used to reach women with vital health and nutrition messages

By Victoria Laroche Creux

Nam Neth, 33, holding baby Ren Pagnayuth, 4 months and 8 days old
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

Takeo Province, Cambodia, November 2018 – Many pregnant women and mothers in Cambodia do not have access to health centres and may not have adequate knowledge to take care of themselves during their pregnancy nor to take care of their new-born baby.


“As it is my first baby, I knew nothing about pregnancy. The mHealth system of the Healthy Family Community taught me how to take care of myself and my baby.” said Nam Neth, 33 years old, who gave birth to her first baby 4 months ago. “The voice messages of the mHealth system are very useful, especially before delivery, as I got reminded of what to do and how to be prepared before my baby was born”.

The Healthy Family Community is a project implemented by the NGO People in Need (PIN) with UNICEF support, that uses mHealth technology, which is the use of mobile phones in medical care, to provide maternal and new-born child health related messages to pregnant women and mothers.

Once a woman is registered to the mHealth system she will receive once a week a recorded voice message on her phone. There are 149 different voice messages in the system that give information and advice on a wide range of topics including pregnancy nutrition, breastfeeding and hygiene.

Prak Sophornn, Ea Chiny and Yoem Lang Ei,
are midwives at
Lom Chang Health Centre in Samrong district
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

“Since we started using the mHealth programme, pregnant women better understand pregnancy dangers. They get the voice messages and they learn, which makes it easier for us, it is time saving” explained Ea Chiny, 33 years old, midwife at Lom Chang Health Centre. The centre is in the small village Svay Prey in Takeo Province, a 2-hour drive away from the bustling capital of Phnom Penh. Lom Chang Heath Centre, located on the side of the road, is not very easy to find, as they are no signs indicating the directions.

Lom Chang Health Centre in the village of Svay Prey, Takeo Province,
is a 2-hour drive away from Phnom Penh
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

“Before, many women drank alcohol during their pregnancy, now we encounter no more women who drink. The voice messages really help them to understand what they shouldn’t do. Sometimes, they come to us for advice as well after listening to the messages” added 29 years old Prak Sophornn, who has been working as a midwife since 2009.

“Everything is completely different, before and after we started using the mHealth programme. Before, some women did not know what morning sickness was, and they thought of having an abortion as they did not understand the reaction of their body” added Ea Chiny, who has been a midwife at Lom Chang Health Centre for the past seven years.

More than 200 pregnant women have been registered in the mHealth system since it was first implemented at Lom Chang Health Centre in 2017, allowing them to access vital health and nutrition messages.

Prak Sophornn, 29, registering a pregnant woman in the system
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

“It is very easy to use the system, the instructions are very clear, and the messages are short and concise” said midwife Ea Chiny, while her colleague, Prak Sophornn, was registering a pregnant woman in the system.

There are two ways to register in the mHealth system, women can either register on their own with the registration line by dialling 1296 or a midwife can register them at their local health centre. When a woman registers, she will dial different numbers depending on the stage of her pregnancy, the baby’s age and her location. The system will then identify the needs of the woman and send out the appropriate voice messages. The programme targets three categories of women: pregnant women, mothers with infants up until the age of one month and mothers with infants aged between 1 month and 24 months. Registering in the system costs 1 000 riels or $ 0.24 per month for the users.

Min Vibol holding his 4 months and 8 days old son
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

Nam Neth, 33 years old, holding baby Ren Pagnayuth
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

Nam Neth, 33, and Min Vibol, 38, are farmers in Chhouk Sor village and they welcomed their first baby 4 months ago. Nam Neth was registered in the system of the mHealth programme at 6 weeks pregnant by a midwife working at Lom Chang Health Centre. Her son, Ren Pagnayuth is a very healthy baby boy. She still receives the mHealth messages and she will remain in the system until Ren Pagnayuth is 24 months old.

“Usually my husband and I listen together to the messages as I receive them when we are together in the evening. Sometimes, we miss the message as I put my phone on silent to not wake the baby up. But once I realize I have missed the voice message, I just wait for the mHealth to call again.”

“The messages are very useful, especially the reminders for vaccines and danger signs” she added.

Un Sophai, 70, holding her grandson,
next to Min Vibol, her son, and his wife Nam Neth
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

The Healthy Family Community voice messages are 60 to 90 seconds long dialogues that feature different characters such as grandma Seam or Nary the midwife. Every voice message is a dialogue, on a certain topic, that follows the lead of a story which makes them more fun and entertaining to listen to. The topics and key messages vary every week from breastfeeding practices, nutrition, keeping the baby warm or vaccination.

According to the midwife Prak Sophornn: “It is so effective to have different characters talking, people like conversation and they want to follow the story”.

Women can identify themselves to certain characters and showcasing different roles and points of view allows them to get expert advice in a less formal way.

Interactive videos and audios are also available on the website http://healthyfamilycommunity.org/ featuring the different characters of the community.

Prak Sophornn, 29, has been working as a midwife for 9 years
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Victoria Laroche Creux

The mHealth project is implemented by PIN with the support of UNICEF and of the Provincial Health Departments of Phnom Penh, Kampong Chhnang, Battambang, Takeo, Kandal, Kratie and Siem Reap.

“I want to see the mHealth system in other health centres and in other provinces, it really helps our work. I am willing to tell every midwife I meet about mHealth as we must spread the news about how useful the system is.”

In 2018, the mHealth programme was implemented in four provinces, reaching over 26,000 pregnant women in total since the beginning of the programme.

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