New mobile tech saves lives and women’s health Africa

Eva Fernandez Ortiz and Shubhi Tandon – WNN Breaking

Mother and child Tanzania
Tanzanian mother and child. Image: Michael Foley Photography

It’s been one hundred years since the first International Women’s Day, and eleven years since the United Nations Millennium Summit. In spite of this poverty still denies women around the world easy access to primary health care.

To answer the needs, a new approach to microfinance Africa is emerging. New technology and the latest innovation is part of the design to reduce global and regional poverty. From the beginning of the launch, the United Kingdom’s DfID – Department for International Development has been helping. Working to improve fertility, maternity and newborn health in developing countries, the program’s meter of success (or not) is now being tested through new tech benchmarks.

The stakes are high as technology proves it can save lives.

According to “A Journalist Guide to Reproductive Health in East Africa”, an October 2009 report by the PRB – Population Reference Bureau, “sexual and reproductive health profoundly affects the social and economic development of countries”.

“When women die in childbirth, children are orphaned. When girls must take over care of their siblings, they drop out of school. Without an education, girls often marry and begin having children early, which can jeopardize their health and limit their opportunities to add productively to their community and their country’s development”, says the report.

But among the statistics many searing questions still do remain. Where do global women in poverty regions stand now? Are any of the assist programs succeeding? Have any “real” solutions been created?

In the regions of Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania women who live at the very bottom of society are still often unable to receive adequate health care at the most crucial time in their pregnancy – when they need it the most. But conditions are improving.

Wayali hospital in Bagamoyo district, in the Pwani Region of Tanzania, is the only medical facility providing a full medically staffed maternity ward for the 82 villages that surround it. Often the women who get there, who are experiencing childbirth complications, do so by walking miles to reach the hospital. Others reach the facility after hours of travel by car or cart via roads that are filled with potholes and washed out completely during rainstorms.

Only half of Tanzania’s women can reach a clinic or hospital when they are in need during childbirth, but new specific programs are working to change this. Wayali hospital sees some of the most critical patients in the area. Maternal complications are high on the list, including women who have suffered from obstetric fistulas.

Obstetric fistulas are common in Tanzania. In childbirth they are caused by extended and prolonged labour, which eventually starts to tear the walls of the uterus. Most women suffering the condition also become completely incontinent as they are treated as outcasts by their family and community.

M-PESA, meaning “mobile money” in Swahili, is now providing on-the-ground mobile banking services in areas of health care for women in Kenya, Tanzania and Afghanistan. Efforts focusing on fistula health and maternal health are now on the table as M-PESA works to change lives.

Acting as an “easy access” mobile phone bank for women and their families, M-PESA is one of the most important global programs to help women reach health care facilities in rural Africa by providing quick cash for transportation to clinics and hospitals.

If a rural family without access to a bank needs cash to pay for transportation, the M-PESA program through Vodaphone, along with CCBRT – Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania, provides a way for money to be transferred quickly and directly to transportation companies via mobile phone text message. The families then pay back the small transportation loan later.

The streamline design of the program is genius, assisting at often very critical moments for women, especially during obstructed maternal childbirth.

Starting in 2003, with the financial support of the UK DfID, M-PESA began to work closely to help launch a mobile banking test program in Kenya. Finding marked success it later expanded to Tanzania. Another program for mobile phone banking, WIZZIT, has begun successfully also in South Africa.

The applications are endless, but health care is where the program can clearly save lives.

The power of financial aid to reach success in pledged international programs is important to those at the bottom as well as those at the UK who want to see these programs expand.

“The Coalition Government in the United Kingdom has pledged to increase international aid, no small commitment when other budgets are being severely cut”, said Principal Speaker of the UK Parliament House of Lords, Baroness Rosalind Scott of Needham Market, during a recent interview with Women News Network. “They are also looking to ensure that much better value is achieved, by looking not just at where the money is spent but on the outcomes”, added Scott.

At the heart of funding is the goal for progress worldwide.

“Projects such this, funded either by private or public funding, lie at the heart of the best in world development, and I am encouraged that maternal health is one of the key objectives of this week’s DfID review,” said MP Baroness Gould of Potternewton at the recent March 3, 2011 International Woman’s Day discussion at the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.

“It is all too easy to put to the back of our minds that one woman dies every minute from complications resulting from pregnancy and childbirth, having been denied good or any maternity care: 350,000 deaths each year,” continued Gould. “Maternal health is a human right and no woman should die through neglect when giving birth”.


Using M-PESA for a Changamka Medical Smartcard, women in Kenya who have little access to money can now save and protect themselves when maternity needs arise. Changamka Microhealth Ltd. and Pumwani Maternity Hospital are the joint winners of the 2010 Award for Contribution to MDG 5 — Improving Maternal Health in Kenya. Their Public Private Partnership (PPP) Programme entails an innovative Health Savings Plan through which Mothers in the low income areas, who have no access to medical plans and insurance cover, can save money on the Changamka Medical Smart card using MPESA for their Antenatal Clinics, Delivery and Postnatal Clinics as well as Outpatient treatment at affordable rates. This 2:55 min September 2010 video is a Changamka Microhealth Ltd release.

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