"I carried out the instruction and the baby started kicking immediately" Award-winning text service supports African mums-to-be

“I was six months pregnant and my baby was not kicking. I was worried and planning to go to the health facility when I received the message that ‘if you are not sure the baby is kicking, sit-up, and take a cold drink.’ As soon as I carried out the instruction, the baby started kicking immediately,” says Itumo Nkechi in South Africa.

Praekelt's MomConnect system uses texts to reacj over 1 million South African mums

The Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award 2017 has been won by MomConnect - an online and text messaging service for pregnant women and new mothers to receive vital medical advice.

More than 1.3 million South African mothers are currently registered on the platform, which was set up as a free service by the National Department of Health (NDOH) in South Africa. The NDOH works with an organisation called Praekelt. which designs and develops mobile technologies to deliver essential information and vital services to more than 100 million people in over 60 countries. The service gives pregnant women the chance to receive stage-based messaging from conception to the end of the first year of her baby’s life.

We caught up with the Praekelt team after the awards to find out more about their work. 

1 What did the AbilityNet Tech4Good Award mean to you?

So often with tech awards, we see them in the Silicon Valley or private space. Not only do we support these awards because they focus on Tech4Good, but we are proud to have won in the inaugural Africa category. African start-ups and technology are making headlines but still hardly get the attention they deserve.

2 What are the main ways you are using different tech platforms?

Our recent annual report focuses on our maternal health platforms and girl-focused mobile innovation projects. 

In Nigeria, the Hellomama programme addresses the fact that most women are illiterate and that SMS is seen as a premium service by utilising voice based technology for delivery of stage based messages. this pilot launched in two states of Nigeria in november 2016 and has registered over 6,000 women and gatekeepers and sent over 40,000 voice messages.

We also have our portfolio of programmes funded by Nike Foundation and supported by Girl Effect include Amadar Golpo, which uses interactive voice response (IVR) to offer peer leaders in BRAC’s Adolescent Development Programme additional support, training, and guidance; the financial literacy app Dooit in Indonesia; and the mobile mentorship programme, mentor To Go, in India.

3 What have you learned about what does and doesn't work?

What works is partnerships. Investing and spending time building partnerships with both global NGOs and governments is key to national-scale implementation. One of the reasons we are able to scale maternal health programmes in several African countries, is because of our partnership with governments.  We also very much believe in thinking of the users throughout the design and build process. 

We always build and create projects that are meant to scale from the start, to avoid problems with sustainability. We believe the power of mobile technology rests in scaling, and can often be complemented by local outreach.

4 Is there any tech/ new platforms that you're excited about?

The last decade has witnessed the incredible power of mobile phones and data connectivity when used to advance the delivery of vital information and services.  With the advance of data capable phones and the penetration of affordable IP connectivity, messaging solutions can now engage people at a previously unimaginable scale. These engagements will be richer, more conversational, immediate, and personal than ever before.
We look forward to how IP messaging, particularly Whatsapp, will make messaging more efficient and accessible for low and middle income communities.

5 What's next? 

At the moment, The NDOH and Praekelt are exploring how to reach mothers through different channels, such as WhatsApp. We have also been awarded a two-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to explore how mobile technologies can improve communication with patients.

6 Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Inclusivity, of genders, ethnicities, and abilities, is a key focus for us, especially because of the people who are our end users. We really support women in technology, and are proud that our organisation is run by a woman, and that many of our senior team who helped implement and build our maternal health platforms are women.

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