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MAMA: Using Text Messaging to Protect Maternal Health in Times of Crisis

From UNFPA: Approximately 25 per cent of women of reproductive age in any displaced population are likely to be pregnant at any given time. The stress of being displaced coupled with the lack of skilled care heightens the risk these women face.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has identified an important information gap for maternal health workers in emergencies. To address this problem, a unique community of practitioners will be launched on Facebook today.

Mama-Together for safe birth in crises is a platform for health workers to identify themselves as champions within humanitarian organizations or in the field and to join a community of practice. Maternal health practitioners will be able to seek advice from follow members by posting questions, sharing best practices and lessons learned, tracking own practices/skills and participating in online discussions. Mama also offers a ‘Lives Saved Counter’ application through which the community can show the impact of their work as a collective.

Addressing the isolation faced by health workers in emergency situations

Mama is an unprecedented initiative as it addresses the isolation faced by many health workers in the field through the use of innovative technology. For the first time, practitioners who may not have access to the Internet or smart phones will be able to send their questions about maternal health to the community via SMS. They are now able to send text messages to a given number, which is then stored on a server posted to the Mama Facebook-group wall through a Facebook application.

The other community members can reply to the question and the answer is sent as a text message back to the practioner. The answer is filtered by the community before it is sent back, and has to be recommended by three members before it is sent.

Making mentors available to spread news and knowledge

The Mama project also involves mentors who provide knowledge on technical updates and answer specific questions. At a specified time of the month, a mentor will be available on chat and will answer questions regarding breaking news or novel research findings. Mama members will then be able to feel that they are part of an active, professional and encouraging community.

One of these mentors is Wilma Doedens, Technical Adviser in Reproductive Health for UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response Branch. Ms. Doedens, who has been part of the inter-agency working group on reproductive health for over 10 years, says that one of the great advantages of the Mama initiative is that health coordinators and managers will have access to better quality of information. They will be able to find solutions that have been identified around the world for common problems.

Accessing the latest and best health protocols

For example, during the cholera outbreak in Haiti, many health practitioners contacted Ms. Doedens for information on how to manage pregnant women during such a crisis. “I had to write to a colleague in Zimbabwe to get information as they also had recently experienced a cholera epidemic,” she says, “If information sharing can be done via Facebook, she explains, it can be accessed by more parties.”

Although the Mama initiative focuses primarily on maternal health, Ms. Doedens hopes that it will lead to discussions about other reproductive health issues. “Family planning, infections and sexual violence, are all issues that are linked and need to be addressed,” she says, “I hope this project will lead to further discussions around such topics.”

The launch of Mama is dedicated to the memory of a true maternal health champion, Dr. Boubacar Touré, known as Bouba. He devoted his life to improving health services for women and girls. Bouba, who was to have been a Mama mentor, was killed in the crash of a UN airplane in the Democratic Republic of Congo on April 4.

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