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Mobile Technology to Improve Access to Maternal Health Care in Senegal

WAHA International is launching a new project in the Tambacounda region in eastern Senegal to help strengthen and improve access to maternal healthcare services in the region.

Senegal has made significant progress in reducing maternal mortality throughout the country; the maternal mortality rate has decreased by 40% since 1990. However, maternal mortality remains an important issue and according to recent World Health Organization figures it is estimated that 1 in 60 Senegalese women still risk dying during pregnancy or childbirth. The Tambacounda region is one of the worst affected regions in the country and consistently comes in last in terms of maternal health indicators in Senegal. According to the Ministry of Health the maternal mortality rate in the region was 650 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010. That’s nearly twice the national rate of 370 deaths per 100,000 live births and highlights the urgency of addressing maternal healthcare needs in the region.

This project, which is being implemented in partnership with the Senegalese Ministry of Health and mobile phone operators and thanks to generous support from the United Nations Foundation, aims to address some of the key barriers preventing women from accessing maternal and neonatal healthcare services. These barriers include a lack of information at the community level about the benefits of services, a lack of reliable transportation systems for patients to reach healthcare facilities, and poor communication between communities and healthcare centers.

Additionally, this project seeks to strengthen existing health structures in the country by working with community health workers, known as Bajenu Gox or “community godmothers” who were trained by the Senegalese Ministry of Health.  Bajenu Gox carry out home visits in their communities to inform women and their families about safe motherhood practices and encourage them to use available maternal and child healthcare services.

The WAHA International program will use mobile technology to help improve communication between local healthcare services and communities. We will launch a large-scale communication campaign by sending SMS and voice messages to the general public to inform them of the availability and benefits of maternal and neonatal health services at their local health facilities.

We will also implement a separate campaign targeting pregnant women and new mothers in the region. New and expecting mothers who attend antenatal and other maternal health consultations will be given a SIM card so that they can receive messages and contact their local Bajenu Gox when needed. These messages will be tailored for each woman depending on the stage of her pregnancy and will provide important information about pre-natal and infant care practices. The Bajenu Gox will reinforce these messages during their house visits with pregnant women and their families

Additionally, in order to increase access to healthcare services in the region, WAHA International will provide the Ministry of Health with motorcycle ambulances that will be dispatched throughout the region. This will contribute to reducing barriers to accessing healthcare services linked to transport costs, long distances, and fears of going to health center alone.

A 24-hour call center will also be established to link communities with ambulance drivers and healthcare facilities and improve local capacities to provide quality maternal healthcare services. It will be managed by three senior midwives who will work in rotating shifts. The midwives, ambulance drivers, Bajenu Gox, and staff at healthcare facilities will be given cell phones in order to create an efficient system for referring pregnant women to healthcare centers. The call center and communication network will also allow the Bajenu Gox and pregnant women to obtain important information and advice from midwives. The Bajenu Gox will also be able to call the midwives if they encounter any emergencies or complications with the women they are working with. The midwives will be able to tell them if the expecting mother needs to be referred to a health center and how to stabilize the patient as she awaits transfer. This will enable the Bajenu Gox to better respond to obstetric emergencies.

This project builds on the success of a project WAHA International implemented in the Kédougou region in southeastern Senegal in 2010 which demonstrated an important impact in terms of reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases in the region (Millennium Development Goals 4, 5, and 6). At the end of the one-year pilot period, the proportion of babies that benefitted from life-saving interventions at birth increased from less than 1% to 8% and the percentage of deliveries that took place with the help of a skilled birth attendant at a health center increased from 20% to 43%. Furthermore, the proportion of pregnant women who received Intermittent Preventative Therapy (IPT) for malaria increased from 5% to 36% and the percentage of pregnant women who were HIV-positive that completed antiretroviral prophylaxis to prevent transmitting HIV to their children increased from 9% to 43%.

To learn more about our projects in Senegal, click here.