Last summer, an American blogger named Amy Graff spent a morning with a new mother and her 11-day-old baby, Calvin, in rural western Kenya.
Sitting inside a one-room cinderblock house surrounded by parched maize fields, Amy talked with Calvin's mom about the importance of breastfeeding, getting her baby vaccinated, and using insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria. This new mom appreciated the information and said she would visit the nearby health clinic -- because, like all moms, she's devoted to giving her child the best care possible.
But many women in the developing world don't go to the health clinic because they don't have the basic education on the benefits of medical care. Many pregnant women fail to get vaccinations that will protect them and their unborn babies because they don't know that they should. For the same reason, they don't take iron supplements that will keep them from bleeding excessively at birth and that will later help their babies grow well.
But if you tell women the benefits of receiving vaccinations and supplements, they may walk the ten miles to the health clinic to ask for them.
We sent Amy to Africa on a trip with Bono's ONE campaign with other American mom bloggers. The purpose of the journey was to see and experience firsthand what life is really like for moms in the developing world.
Writing about her experiences on BabyCenter's blog Momformation.com, Amy shined a light on the dire maternal health situation in Africa. She found that women too often lack access to the information they need to have healthy pregnancies, babies, and lives.
Moms all over the world need the right information to help them make the right choices. At BabyCenter, a proud member of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, we provide women around the globe with the trusted advice and support the needs that arise along their maternal journey. Using the power of the Internet, we engage more than 25 million moms each month in 22 regions and 12 languages around the world. That number may sound like a lot, but with 135 million babies born every year, it isn't even a quarter of the women who could use our support and services.
But women like Calvin's mom don't have Internet access. Mothers like her don't even have running water or electricity. There is, however, one thing they do have: basic mobile phones that can receive text messages.
Maybe this is our way in.
Last April, we helped launch MAMA, an initiative to deliver critical health information to women in the developing world, like Calvin's mom, through text and voice messages on basic mobile phones. MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action) is a public-private partnership founded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Johnson & Johnson, with support from the United Nations Foundation, mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter.
Much like the content on BabyCenter, MAMA messages are personalized, targeted, and timely. Crafted for women in low-resource settings, they provide vital information about pregnancy, delivery and infant care (antenatal care, clean cord care, immunizations). The messages are delivered week by week throughout pregnancy and the first year of the baby's life. We've learned that by walking with women through the journey of motherhood we build an emotional connection and gain their trust - and it's at this moment that they're open to receiving our support.
To reach as many moms as possible, MAMA is offering a set of open-source adaptable messages to non-governmental organizations for free. Organizations can take this content and tailor it to address the specific needs of their community. Over the next three years, MAMA will be rolled-out in three countries, Bangladesh, India and South Africa, and will invest $10 million to support the work in these countries and expand into other areas of the globe.
Something magical happens when a pregnant woman who's several months along receives a message telling her, "Your baby is still small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and has a new trick - it hiccups!" An emotional connection is made and her maternal instincts are unleashed. She begins to understand the connection. Her journey continues.
What maternal and infant health information did you find most helpful in your maternal journey?
Follow Tina Sharkey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@TinaSharkey