According to the World Health Organization, babies who are partially breastfed—or not breastfed at all—are vulnerable to serious illness if not death from diarrhea and other infections. Exclusive breastfeeding is subsequently recommended for the first six months of life, as it lowers the mortality rate among malnourished children in addition to shielding them from infection.
The Tanzanian government hoped to improve the health of newborn babies and their mothers by implementing a text messaging campaign some three years ago. Entitled Wazazi Nipendeni, which means ‘Parents Love Me’ in Swahili, the campaign provides subscribers with health information, doctor’s appointment reminders, and more through their mobile devices. Over 125,000 women have registered for the service, which has sent more than 5 million text messages so far.
Mobile phone technology has become an invaluable tool for connecting with citizens in Tanzania and other African countries, no matter how remote their locations. According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory, the country has the highest text message rate per month in East Africa.
While the country has made progress in preventing deaths from childbirth-related complications, it did not reach its Millennium Development Goal of “reducing maternal deaths to 193 per 100,000 live births from 454 per 100,000 by the end of 2015.” Tanzanian government officials cite HIV/AIDS, a lack of skilled health workers and proper clinics, little to no funding, and insufficient awareness regarding women’s reproductive health issues for this failure.
"We have realized that engaging women alone is not enough. We need to involve all members of the society to make the campaign more effective," Pamela Kweka, an official from the Tanzania Communication and Development Center, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The campaign originally focused on pregnant women, but now includes men, nurses, and midwives. The idea is to educate all societal members, not just expecting mothers.
Subscriber Adelika Kessy nearly died during childbirth three years ago after developing anemia a few weeks prior. She did not receive routine check-ups simply because she was uninformed.
"I was feeling tired and weak. It happened so suddenly and I didn't know what do," Kessy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "I was too weak to give birth naturally, even after undergoing several blood transfusions. In the end, the doctors decided to carry out a Caesarean section."
Kessy, a 36-year-old housewife, is currently pregnant with her third child, and counts on the SMS service to alert her about clinic appointments.