Mother's helper? Text messages deliver health advice to South African women

Sara Jerving – Christian Science Monitor – Friday, 18 July 2014 (originally published 16 Jul)

Health clinic
Outside the Esselen health clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa in June 2014. The Esselen clinic participates in the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) program, a US-backed public-private partnership. Image: Sara Jerving/Global Post

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – I walked into the Esselen clinic in Hillbrow, Johannesburg on a recent morning to find around 40 women and their newborn babies crowded together on rows of wooden chairs. They were waiting for a health worker to call them into another room where a chorus of cries could be heard — the sound of babies being stuck with vaccination needles.

Some of the women had arrived at the health clinic as early as 6:30 in the morning, standing in line outside in the winter cold, aiming to be the first to enter when the doors opened at 8 a.m. Those women lucky enough to get in sat patiently for hours, rocking their babies and playing with their cell phones.

Mandla Goshwa, a 24-year-old health worker, interrupted their chatter in the noisy space as he stood at the front of the room and told the women about a free health text messaging service called the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). Mothers who elect to subscribe to the service, he said, receive text messages twice a week that deliver advice on how to care for their child. If the women are pregnant, they receive tips on prenatal care . . .

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