By: Josh Nesbit, co-founder and executive director of FrontlineSMS:Medic
The magnitude of certain problems is fully evident and inexcusable. Each year, 350,000 women and girls die every year from pregnancy-related causes, and over 100 million lack access to family planning. My generation has had access to these staggering statistics for years. As global citizens, we must now choose to act.
I was honored to join heads of UN agencies and government officials, as well as corporate and nonprofit leaders at last week’s Women Deliver event, “Accelerating Action on the MDGs: Delivering for Women, Girls, and Babies.” The theme threading the event’s discussions was clear - low-hanging impact exists, and if we want to increase access to proven interventions, we need to get creative.
We know lives are saved by skilled birth attendants and quality postnatal care. Still, distance between women and health clinics is a large gap in health systems and a threat to maternal and newborn health. In many places, we now have mobile tools that can bridge that gap before, during, and after childbirth. Decentralized community health workers and traditional birth attendants are with expecting mothers; in an ideal world, 100% of these remote health workers would be able to communicate with the nearest health facility through means other than walking or bicycling. Simple voice calls and smart text messaging systems can increase access to emergency transport as well as obstetric and neonatal care.
We also know that women want access to family planning. Once a decision has been made to provide family planning for large, distributed populations, commodity levels must be closely monitored to ensure access. Usually, this means staff on motorcycles deliver stock reports when they have a reason to visit a central office. Reports aren’t delivered or go missing in stacks of paper. Women walk miles to the clinic to be turned away due to stock shortages.
With booming mobile infrastructure and suite of tools at our disposal - text messaging, data networks, voice, flashing systems, radio, etc. - that lack of coordination can and should end. In the next few years, people at every level of the health system, from patients to policymakers, should have access to real-time information regarding stockouts. Everyone with a mobile phone can play a role; routine reporting from paid health staff layered with less structured citizen reporting can identify and verify bright spots and trouble spots.
FrontlineSMS:Medic is a nonprofit using mobile technology to create health systems that save more lives. The FrontlineSMS:Medic team and I are focused on low-hanging impact, and scaling what works now. At a time when questions of accountability abound, we develop and deploy tools that enable local action and produce good data as a byproduct. We are building tools that become solutions when people on the ground use them to tackle specific problems. At the Clinton Global Initiative, we committed to scaling new mobile health tools to support more than 15,000 health workers and the patients they serve.
Today, our team is planning a project with One Heart World-Wide in Nepal to increase access to emergency obstetric care and increase the percentage of births attended by skilled birth attendants. In Mali, we are designing systems for reproductive health commodity and maternal health event monitoring. We are moving quickly to deploy tools where they can make an impact. It is time to act, together.