Bangladesh: Mobile Health Service For Expecting and New Mothers

The total number of Mobile Phone subscribers in Bangladesh is currently more than 98 million and a large portion of them are female. Targeting this population a maternal health care service using mobile phone was launched recently. Aponjon is a mobile phone based health service for expecting and new mothers in Bangladesh under the auspices of Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). It is a low-cost service, free for the poorest 20 percent of its subscribers and it aims to reduce maternal and newborn illnesses and deaths.

Kirsten Gagnaire, MAMA Global Partnership Director, writes:

Aponjon logo. It symbolizes that involvement of husband and other family members is important for maintaining better health of mothers. Image courtesy Aponjon website.

Aponjon, which means “trusted friend” in Bengali, is a service developed by the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) partners in Bangladesh. It focuses on providing moms with messages via mobile phones that share information on how to care for themselves and their babies throughout pregnancy and the first year of life. A unique aspect of Aponjon is that it has a service targeted specifically for gatekeepers, as they make decisions about the family’s care and finances. Gatekeepers in Bangladesh are often partners, mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters and other figures in the community. The Aponjon messages for gatekeepers reinforce the messages the women receive through the mom-focused service, but emphasize the critical role they play in ensuring that pregnancy, birth and early childhood are healthy and happy experiences for their families.

The Aponjon service was introduced in September, 2011 in 13 locations of four districts in Bangladesh with 1200 subscribers on a pilot basis. On completion of a successful pilot, Aponjon kicked off its national scale operation. Aponjon aspires to reach more than 2 million expecting women and new mothers by 2015.

The state of of Mother and Infant health in Bangladesh

Both the Maternal and child mortality rates are high in Bangladesh. According a report, every 45 minutes a woman in Bangladesh dies from complications in pregnancy or childbirth. Every 4 minutes, a child less than 1 month old dies because their mother didn't have access to proper post-natal and ante-natal care.

However, over the past decades, persistent efforts at national and local level, have led to a sharp decline in maternal and child mortality in Bangladesh. Infant mortality declined from 97 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 37 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011. In the same period, post-neonatal mortality fell by 50 per cent, and under-5 mortality dropped by 67 per cent.

Successes story

Asha Rani, a 24-year old woman happily married with two children, lives in the Vashantek slum in Mirpur, one of the most crowded slums in Dhaka city. After the birth of her second child she learned about “aponjon” from a health worker and got registered. She is happy for the service:

Asha Rani, a satisfied user of Aponjon mobile health service. Image courtesy Aponjon website.

“Well…to tell you the truth, now I know that I should keep my daughter on my shoulder for a few minutes after she receives breast milk. She doesn’t vomit anymore and I am so relieved. The Aponjon service helped me to get accurate health messages on how to raise a child as well as how to take care of my own health.”

In last few years, mobile phone rapidly spread in rural Bangladesh. Most of Bangladesh are now covered under mobile network. So mobile phone is a very convenient medium to send and receive information. Dr. Fida Mehran wrote in an article published in the Daily Star:

A few years back it was unthinkable that a mobile phone would become a common commodity item for most of the population; that even people below the poverty line would be able to buy mobile phones, learn to call and receive calls, even learn to read and write a few SMSs. Given the usage and network spread that mobile telephony has managed to reach in Bangladesh, mobile phone itself is becoming the best media to spread information and awareness.


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