How Text Messaging Curbs Infant Mortality in Africa’s Biggest Urban Slum
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Almost half of Kenyan mothers do not give birth in a hospital and, thus, receive little professional care or education on basics such as how long to breast feed, what to do in the case of diarrhea and vomiting, or where to go for an emergency. In this issue of Digital Diversity, Cayte Bosler looks at an innovative text messaging service which helps parents differentiate between normal behaviors and signs that something might be wrong.
Digital Diversity is a series of blog posts from kiwanja.net featuring the many ways mobile phones and other appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives.
By Cayte Bosler
Veronica’s 6 month-old daughter, the youngest of her two children, was severely dehydrated. In the U.S., that might precipitate a quick web search or a trip to the pediatrician. But Veronica lives in Kiberia, an area of Nairobi, Kenya, that is frequently cited as Africa’s biggest urban slum. Nairobi’s infant mortality rate is 40 out of 1000 – compared to 6 in 1000 in the U.S. – and like millions of others in Kenya, Veronica lacks access to basic healthcare.
Veronica could have been at a loss for how to respond to her child’s sickness. But on this occasion, she opened her cell phone and sent a text asking for help. She was using Totohealth, an SMS service designed to help guide mothers through the first few years of their children’s lives. The service sends weekly texts, based on a child’s birthdate, to alert parents to developmental milestones and things to look for.
“Even in low income settings like Kibera, the majority of people have basic phones,” explains Malele Ngalu, marketing director for Kenya-based Totohealth. “We utilize SMS technology to help reduce maternal mortality and child mortality and to detect developmental abnormalities in early stages.”
The company was founded in 2014 by Felix Kimaru for who wanted to apply his background in computer science to solving one of the continent’s biggest problems. Users subscribe to the service for free; the cost – about 25 cents per person a month – is covered by county governments, who see it as a way to improve community health. Once they’ve registered, users get weekly messages about what to expect from their children.