Due to the lack of awareness about mother and child care practices, India has one of the world’s worst infant and maternal mortality rates. At the same time, India also has one of the fastest growing mobile telephony markets, where the technology has become available to the most economically and socially marginalised communities. These factors have led to an initiative to deliver health information through mobile technology for an uncommon purpose: delivering actionable health information right to a mother’s hand.

As part of the Maternal Health Service on Mobile (MHSM) project implemented by Datamation Foundation Trust in India, Microsoft India partnered with OneWorld South Asia (OWSA) to develop an SMS toolkit that would provide critical reproductive and child health related information services to pregnant and lactating women, their families and health workers through mobile phones, using localised SMSs in Hindi. The content is predetermined and pre-vetted – providing the kind of knowledge that these women need to not only ensure better healthcare for themselves, but also to ensure that their babies get the best possible start in life.

The project commenced in two districts of Northern Indian state Uttar Pradesh and has benefitted more than 1000 pregnant and lactating women. Through an extensive community mobilisation drive, women were registered for the MHSM service manually on a Content Management System (CMS), along with details of the pregnancy including any complications. Thereafter, mothers would receive at least two customised messages every week with medical advice and reminders on pre or post-natal care.

“The SMSs gave me useful tips such as the various vaccinations I need during the course of my pregnancy. I took all the advice seriously and managed to deliver a very healthy baby,” said Bilja, a 23 year-old beneficiary.

The health information provided by the service allowed families of the targeted women to better support the beneficiaries. An added benefit was that the health workers and officials who were part of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scheme were able to provide relevant, timely and customised health information, allowing them to monitor the mothers and babies more effectively.

“Prior to using this service, I felt very weak during my pregnancy. After my husband encouraged me to monitor the diet chart sent via the SMS alerts, I started to eat iron-rich food. Now, I feel more energetic and healthy,” said Mamta Devi, a program participant.

Upon the successful implementation of phase I, the team plans to scale the project across India and provide the SMSs in multiple languages through partnerships with health departments of central and state governments. In the second phase, pre-recorded voice messages are being looked at, so that more women and families can access this service. Finally, a system of automatic registration will be introduced at a later stage.