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Mobile Phones as a Tool for Providing South African Mothers with Maternal Health Information

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This post was written by Annie Wattenmaker, an intern at the O’Neill Institute and a rising sophomore at the University of Virginia. Any questions or comments can be directed to

MAMA, the Global Alliance for Maternal Action, has turned into a global movement that uses mobile technology to improve the health of mothers in developing countries. Mothers now use MAMA all throughout South Africa, where they receive daily text messages that provide maternal health tips. Now, instead of having to trek to a clinic, women can receive many messages each week about their baby’s development.

South Africa in particular is in desperate need for improved maternal health. It is the only country not at war that has not seen a decreased rate in maternal mortality over the past ten years. According to UNICEF, 4,300 mothers die in South Africa every year due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. 75,000 children do not make it past age five. These staggering numbers are due to the challenges women face in poverty, including a lack of good health care, unemployment and HIV prevalence. MAMA has taken advantage of the widespread use of mobile phones to educate women and hopefully decrease maternal mortality in the coming years.

MAMA provides information through an interactive website, text messages, social networking and voicemails. Through these channels, MAMA can reach a wide range of income groups. Content provided is personalized for each user, based on their due date or the age of the baby. Information includes what to do when a baby’s teeth come in, reminders for mothers to attend a clinic, and tips for mothers with HIV. The voicemails are especially important for illiterate mothers since it sends pre-recorded messages in the same language as the text messages. There is also “MAMA Monday,” where anyone with a South African cellphone can register to receive a personalized quiz aimed at helping mothers learn about pregnancy.

While reaching many, MAMA faces many challenges including low literacy rates and the high cost of text messages. Due to the cost, MAMA cannot yet provide nationwide texts but is working hard to overcome this. The ultimate goal is a texting service that reaches the entire nation and provides a weekly message reminder for the duration of the pregnancy until the child reaches age one.

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