eHealth in the Field: Inspiring Women and Applied Technology
This past weekend the Bangladesh Knowledge Management Initiative (BKMI) team went to rural Gaibandha in northern Bangladesh. We observed two eHealth programs in action, hoping to learn from their experiences and explore ways to collaborate.
One program that we visited was the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) initiative. This project provides informational SMS (text) and voice messages in Bangla (the primary language of Bangladesh) to pregnant women and new moms, as well as their husbands, mothers-in-law, and other decision makers in the family. They receive one to two messages a week that are tailored to the week of pregnancy or the age of the child. Messages remind moms and their families about what to expect during pregnancy, warning signs of complications, preparation for childbirth including where to go to deliver, healthy nutrition for mom and baby, breastfeeding, and other issues. The program sends regular health information to families who may have limited access to clinics and providers. Moms that we visited were able to recall messages they had heard and tell us about the resulting changes they made in their diet to improve nutrition.
The MAMA initiative is a great example of how mobile phones can help families stay healthy and be more prepared for pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for young children.
To read more about MAMA, go to http://www.dnet.org.bd/mdg/3.html.
The other program that we visited was the Infolady project. This project selects ambitious young local women and provides them with a laptop, Internet connection, speakers, a camera, some basic medical equipment, and a bicycle. After a comprehensive training program, the women are prepared to go out into their community offering a variety of services. They organize discussion groups with couples, mothers, adolescents, farmers, and other groups where the Info Ladies show relevant videos about health, agriculture, and other topics and then discuss and answer questions. They can test for diabetes, monitor blood pressure, and provide basic medical and emergency services.
Info Ladies can also connect people in the community to physicians or other experts via webcam. Info Ladies charge a fee for some of their services, so they are able to make a respectable salary, and the community is able to access useful information from the Info Lady herself and using her technology..
It was inspiring to meet several Info Ladies and observe their discussion groups in action. One group was discussing and watching videos about safe motherhood and breastfeeding, and another was a group of young girls discussing adolescent health and HIV/AIDS.
The benefits of this project are multifaceted. The community is able to learn and discuss a variety of issues with a trained Info Lady, and they can also reach out beyond their community to learn from experts. The Info Ladies themselves also benefit immensely. They earn a good salary (the father of a young Info Lady confessed that his daughter made more money that he did), and they also gain invaluable skills in health, education, communication, and community mobilization, that will benefit their future careers. All the Info Ladies we met were confident, empowered, and independent young women. The project provides these impressive women with leadership experience and new opportunities, and they become great role models for other young women in their community.
For more information about the program and its history, go to http://www.i4donline.net/articles/current-article.asp?articleid=1979&typ=Features.