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Stories of Change - Reducing maternal and childhood mortality through personalised SMS reminders

Author: Jordan Junge
Published Date: 27 January 2016

At SIX we think it is important to tell stories where social innovation has impacted people’s lives for the better. Our Stories of Change series tells you the stories that inspire us from around the world.

Marta woke up in the middle of the night with sharp pain in her lower abdomen. Being eight months pregnant, she knew something wasn’t right- but the nearest health clinic was more than 6 hours away. She quickly sent a text message asking what she could do. Within an hour- a helicopter was en route to collect Marta and bring her to the hospital to have an emergency operation. Both Marta and her newborn child survived thanks to that text message. A few months earlier -they might not have.

Despite innovation in poverty reduction throughout the country via Prospera, the world’s second largest conditional cash transfer programme, Mexico still faces a multitude of health inequality. In poorer communities, particularly in the southeastern states, maternal mortality is five times higher than in the north. A lack of facilities combined with restrictive social norms and cultural beliefs prevent women from accessing the care that they need.

Prospera Digital aims to reduce this maternal and childhood mortality through practical and personalised SMS reminders that encourage mothers to take action in the areas of antenatal care, nutrition, delivery, postnatal care, breastfeeding, and immunisation. The messages remind women of health clinic appointments, what to expect during the pregnancy and other key questions that they might have. The two-way communication system aims to answer women’s questions and in special occasions like Marta’s- provide immediate help by channelling the message through to the Health Ministry pregnancy hotline. In the pre-pilot phase from September to November 2015- over 7,638 messages were sent and received to 150 women- demonstrating the popularity of the service. 

UNICEF documented the success of the programme and found that many women appreciated the dedicated and timely messages they received:

 “I´m very happy that someone is interested in how I´m feeling.”

“Now I know what to ask during my consultations.”

 “Before this, my mother used to remind me about my doctor visits, and she used to forget sometimes.”

“Now I know what to do if something happens to me.”

The programme wants to improve outcomes for children and mothers and foster better decision-making and culture regarding health and nutrition in communities across the country, as well as improve the way the Government communicates with citizens. A randomised-control trial has been set up to measure the impact of the programme.

Although SMS technology is widely used across the world, particularly in Southern Africa, to improve maternal care, the collaborative partnership model makes this project particularly unique:

  • The programme is an initiative of the Office of the President of Mexico- allowing it to make use of a variety of datasets
  • ANATEL, a telecommunications company, donated 1,000 recycled mobile phones
  • 10 million SMS have been donated by Telefónica-Movistar, a telecommunications provider
  • The Behavioural Insights Team based in the UK worked on the content of the messages & follow-up with the Health Ministry, Prospera and UNICEF

After the success of the pre-pilot, the programme began its official pilot in late November 2015 expanding to over 600 health clinics with a total of 5,000 participants across five states. Eventually the programme hopes to expanded to all of Prospera’s 7 million households and promote digital and financial inclusion with these new data-driven tools and mobile technologies.