Wazazi Nipendeni: How text messages are supporting mothers in Tanzania
In 2008, the Government of Tanzania registered 45,000 newborn and 13,000 maternal deaths. In comparison, the United States, a country 10 times larger and over seven times more populated, records an average of 25,000 infant and 650 maternal deaths each year, according to CDC. Tanzania needed to reduce these numbers and knew that communicating important health messages to new and expectant mothers was the key. Wazazi Nipendeni (“Parents Love Me” in Swahili), a national healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood multi-media campaign, is reaching new and expectant mothers in the most remote corners of Tanzania.
What is Wazazi Nipendeni?
Expectant mothers receive free text messages and appointment reminders in Swahili thanks to Wazazi Nipendeni a national multi-media campaign that harnesses mobile phone technology. Tanzanians interested in healthy pregnancy information register for the text messaging service by indicating the woman’s current week or month of pregnancy (or the age of the newborn baby) during the enrollment process. The campaign supports the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality (CARMMA). It is led by the Government of Tanzania, and is supported by several key partners including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CDC Foundation, USAID, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and Joining Hands Initiative – Aga Khan Health Services.
“Our solution for reaching new and expectant mothers in even the most remote corners of Tanzania is text messaging to mobile phones,” explains Sarah Emerson, country manager, mHealth Tanzania Public Private Partnership, CDC Foundation. “We are reaching these hard to reach populations by providing informative text messages and appointment reminders in Swahili at no charge for pregnant women and mothers of newborn babies up to 16 weeks of age, as well as to supporters (husband, friends and family) and information seekers.”
Measures of Success
Mobile phone technology has proven to be a powerful tool in Tanzania, a country with more than 25 million subscribers and the highest rate of text messages sent per month in East Africa. Since its launch in November 2012, Wazazi Nipendeni has achieved 125,000 registrants. More than 5 million text messages have been sent to subscribers who signed up for the free healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood information. An average of 7,000 people continue to enroll each week.
Aside from the numbers, the most powerful endorsement of the program comes from the mothers themselves. One mother, who was pregnant with her third child when she enrolled to receive the text messages, revealed that this was the first time she exclusively breast-fed her baby of nearly five months in age. She said she did not know that all the baby needed was breastmilk – she had previously given her babies water and porridge – until she received the Wazazi Nipendeni messages telling her that breastmilk is all the baby needs!
Here is another mother’s story:
Eliza is 29 years old and a first-time mother. She works as a housekeeper in Dar es Salaam. She was one of the first registrants of the program. Says Eliza:
"I was happy to receive the Wazazi Nipendeni information. I found the text messages on my phone very useful during each period of my pregnancy. I liked the helpful tips, including the importance of attending clinics regularly. I was able to learn about the need for testing and malaria prevention. I feel that it benefited me to know these things. I was able to go and deliver my baby safely. My baby was born healthy and free from malaria. This service has also assisted my husband to better understand what I was going through during my pregnancy, so that he could be of greater assistance to me according to my needs."
Eliza considers herself privileged when it comes to receiving information. She reads the newspapers and listens to radio. She thinks the service will be especially useful to women living in remote areas who may not have the same access to information as she does but who do have mobile phones. Less than half of pregnant women in Tanzania visit an antenatal clinics four times. It is during these visits important healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood information is given to these mothers-to-be. According to Eliza:
"Many people, especially those living in rural areas, are not realizing how important it is to visit clinics. They just don’t receive as much education and information as we do in big cities. Newspapers are scarce there and not everyone has a radio. It also does not cost anything to get these text messages. So anyone can get the information from the Wazazi Nipendeni text messaging service. It will benefit many people because it reaches all regions around the country."
The national healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood multi-media campaign is supported by several key partners including CDC, CDC Foundation, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, the Joining Hands Initiative (JHI-Aga Khan Health Services), Text to Change and many others.
mHealth Tanzania's Role in the Campaign
The mHealth Tanzania Partnership is an innovative public-private partnership (PPP) led by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Tanzania. It operates with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as numerous Tanzanian and international public and private sector partners.
The mHealth Tanzania Partnership strengthens the campaign by providing informative text messages and appointment reminders in Swahili at no charge for pregnant women and mothers of newborn babies up to 16 weeks of age, as well as to her supporters (husband, friends and family) and information seekers. The multi-media campaign includes promotion of the free SMS service by listing the short-code on the campaign materials and instructs anyone interested in more free information on healthy pregnancy to send the word ‘MTOTO’ (child) to the short-code.
The Partnership convenes multiple sectors, combining expertise and resources to implement sustainable and scalable public health programs that leverage the booming mobile phone infrastructure in Tanzania.