Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mobile money to help pregnant women get to health care

In the under-developed world a hospital can be miles away but the trip may seem like an eternity. For a mother having childbirth complications, the only transportation available to them may be walking. That task may be impossible for a pregnant mother experiencing pain. Cars are few and public transportation may be unaffordable for these women.

One mobile phone service helps to speed access to money for women who need help getting to medical care. M-PESA is a mobile app that is funded in part by the UK’s DfID office to improve maternal health.

From the Women's News Network, writers Eva Fernandez Ortiz and Shubhi Tandon explain the app to us.

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.

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