MomConnect is a mobile phone-based initiative designed to to promote maternal and child wellbeing and reduce mortality, as well as strengthen health services in South Africa. The national initiative seeks to improve patients’ access to information on maternal and child health care as well as encourage health seeking behaviours.
Launched in August 2014 by the South African National Department of Health and a wide range of partners, MomConnect works to register all pregnant women and provide them with stage-based short message service (SMS) texts and alerts about pregnancy, birth and care of an infant. It is being made available through all government clinics, is integrated with the public health patient record systems, and incorporates a feedback component which functions to improved the public health system.
MomConnect has three main components:
Registration: Whenever healthcare workers encounter a pregnant woman, they assist her to register on the system. The registration is done on a mobile phone and is free to the user. Registration captures the expected delivery date of the baby, as well as the mother’s details, health facility details, and language preferences.
Messaging: Once registered, pregnant women receive regular stage-appropriate messages to support them through pregnancy, birth, and the first year of their child’s life. Messages are received via SMS at no cost to the mother, and mothers are able to choose to receive the messages in any of the 11 official South African languages. Messages cover “hard” topics such as diet and nutrition, HIV, PMTCT awareness, hypertension, immunisation, and breastfeeding, as well as “softer” messages aimed at getting the mother to bond with the baby. Clinical messages are also received that remind the mother when to attend antenatal check-ups, take her baby for immunisations etc. Finally, appointment reminders alert the mother to imminent or missed appointments.
Feedback: The system also allow users to give feedback on the quality of health services they received. The registration information for the pregnant woman links her feedback to the facility where she is receiving care, allowing the Department to link compliments and complaints back to specific facilities and staff. This helps improve the maternal and child health services in South Africa. To support nurses and health workers, the system also provides them with the necessary information and tools to improve their work.
Click here for an infographic that explains how MomConnect works.
The language inclusivity, the fact that it is a free service, and the fact that the messages can be received on even the cheapest cellphone ensures that MomConnect is inclusive. The system also takes into account the physical mobility of mothers-to-be. Women may not always visit the same clinic which makes the tracking of patients quite challenging. The programme therefore links the already existing medical registry to an electronic data base that can be accessed from all MomConnect clinics in the region.
In addition to providing pregnancy and child care related information, MomConnect seeks to capture data on all pregnant women in South Africa. The data feeds into the National Pregnancy Register, which allows national, provincial and district health authorities to track what happens to pregnant women and their children. The register will also help ensure that these patients are tracked and treated appropriately over time, across all levels of the health service.
By the end of the first year of operation, over 500 000 women had joined MomConnect. That equals nearly 1,400 women per day, and 60 per hour. In addition, over 33,000 nurses had been trained on how to use the system and more than 94% of public health facilities nationally (amounting to 3,538) were actively registering pregnant women.
Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)
Rationale for the programme:
In South Africa, 40 out of every 1,000 children die before the age of five and for every 100,000 births, approximately 140 women die during pregnancy and childbirth. This is substantially higher than the Millennium Development Goal targets, and double the average for developing countries. Children and women are still dying of preventable causes during pregnancy, childbirth and the first five years of life. Causes include hypertension and obstetric haemorrhage amongst women, and diarrhoea, measles, and pneumonia amongst children. Many of these deaths could be prevented by improving maternal attendance at antenatal clinics, boosting their knowledge around pregnancy and child care, as well as improving the quality of maternal health care services women receive.
In addition, almost all mothers in the country, including those in rural areas, have household access to a cellphone (even if they do not own their own). There is thus an enormous opportunity to reach pregnant women and new mothers with informative messages, and directions on attending antenatal clinics.
The initiative has included involvement from a wide-range of stakeholders including: the National Department of Health, the 9 Provincial Departments of Health, the Praekelt Foundation, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI),Health Information Systems Program (HISP)- South Africa, Cell-Life, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), VP systems, Jembi Health Systems, mHealth Alliance and HealthEnabled, UN Foundation, Baby Center, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Johnson & Johnson.
MomConnect - One Year of Operation: A Case Study [PDF] and Health Enabled website and UNICEF website on August 25 2016.