New Partnership to Strengthen Mobile Health Programs for Moms

Kudos to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, Johnson & Johnson CEO William Weldon, and their colleagues at the United Nations Foundation, the mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter on the launch of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, a new public-private partnership to improve maternal and child health by harnessing the power of mobile technology to deliver vital health information to expectant and new mothers. 

Many women around the world have limited or no access to basic health information necessary for safe pregnancies and healthy babies.  These women typically live in resource-constrained settings that lack the first-line providers of such information -- nurses, midwives, and trained birth attendants. 

Enter technological innovation, which has the potential to be a force multiplier -- enabling us to reach more people, more efficiently and at lower cost.  Technologies like the mobile phone, for example, can unlock novel and transformative solutions to longstanding development challenges if we utilize them effectively.  We need to make sure that people have access to new technologies, which is happening at a rapid pace with cell phones around the world (more than 1 billion women in low- and middle-income countries own a mobile phone).  In fact, global smartphone sales exceeded PCs for the first in the fourth quarter of 2010, ahead of market predictions.  That said, we need to understand how technology can make a difference. 

What’s exciting about the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action is that it acts both locally and globally to achieve scale and impact. Over the next three years, it will work across an initial set of three countries, Bangladesh, South Africa and India, to help coordinate and increase the impact of existing mobile health programs, provide resources and technical assistance to developers of promising new business models, and build the evidence base on the effective application of mobile technology to improve maternal health. Lessons learned from these and other initiatives will be shared globally in a coordinated exchange of information. The partnership will foster collaboration among similar initiatives in other countries to accelerate efforts to reach millions of women with mobile phone access around the world with critical health information.

We have had some experience with mobile health programs for moms here in the US.  Last February, I had the pleasure of announcing the domestic text4baby program that has now reached nearly 170,000 moms.  And early this March, our colleagues in Russia announced that they are creating a similar program, which will bring mobile health information to moms in Russia as well. Moreover, the Administration’s FY12 budget establishes a Wireless Innovation (WIN) Fund to spur innovation through investments in research and development of wireless technologies and applications.  In particular, the WIN Fund proposes a $100 million investment over five years to CMS for emerging wireless technologies in the health care sector in order to spur applications that educate consumers, offers new tools to assist in patient care, and reduces health care costs.

Measuring results and using evaluation data -- lessons learned from mobile health information programs in the United States, Russia, Bangladesh, India, South Africa, and many others -- to develop best practices and improve our understanding of what works and why will be a critical part of the MAMA partnership.  As we strengthen the global knowledge base and share best practices around effective ways to provide these services, designers of new and existing programs will be able to learn from tap into each other’s experiences to increase their impact, sustainability, and scale. 

Most importantly, information initiatives such as the MAMA partnership empower women, which is important in its own right and is also essential to improving the health of families and communities.   Access to a mobile phone can mean access to information about pregnancy, childbirth and the first year of life that enables women to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families.

Congratulations again to all the partners.

Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer

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