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Technology to keep pregnant women healthy

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
With a simple SMS the Department of Health will now be able to track the progress of pregnant women thanks to a new initiative called MomConnect.

MomConnect is an SMS system that reminds pregnant women to attend their antenatal and postnatal classes.

The programme is currently being piloted in the Umgungudlovu and eThekwini districts in KwaZulu-Natal and in Hillbrow, Gauteng and is expected to be rolled out to other provinces this month.

“Preparations for the official launch and plans to upscale the roll out of the MomConnect preand post-natal programme for pregnant women and their infants are at an advanced stage. This was following the decision of the National Health Council (NHC) under the chair of Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi in March to establish this initiative to improve the quality of care for pregnant women and their infants,” said the department’s director for external communications Nombulelo Leburu.

In addition to sending SMS information and reminder messages, MomConnect helps track mothers and baby’s progress through the Integrated Electronic Patient Record System, which is a medical records system known as Bookwise.

The system makes it possible for healthcare workers to see when a mother or baby has missed a critical check-up, test or immunisation.

The messaging component of MomConnect will have three strands. The first is registration where a pregnant woman, assisted by a health worker at an antenatal clinic will have her particulars, including her cell number, entered into a database. She will then get messages sent to her cellphone regarding the age of the unborn baby and after birth, messages related to immunisation.

The second strand is where any woman who thinks she is pregnant subscribes by phoning a unique number. She will get general pregnancy messages with an additional main message to encourage her to go to an antenatal clinic.

“The third strand is where a community health worker, introduces a woman in the community to MomConnect. This serves as the same purpose as subscription, but more of the woman’s details are entered into the system. The main purpose of both subscription and initiation is to get women to the antenatal clinic as early in their pregnancy as possible,” Leburu explained.

According to the department, only half of all pregnant women report to a clinic or hospital before 20 weeks of their pregnancy, something MomConnect aims to improve.

Ante- and postnatal services are an essential for mother and child health. This reduces the high maternal and child mortality rates in the country. A pregnant woman should be attending antenatal classes at 14 weeks.

MomConnect will be available at clinics where there are antenatal services.

All four major cellphone operators - Cell C, MTN, Vodacom and Telkom - have agreed to a single number that will be used by all operators as well as reverse billing, making the service free to all users.

The messaging will be available in all 11 official languages.

MomConnect will give pregnant women the opportunity to ask questions, register their complaints or compliments about the service they get as well as rate it.