mHealth Reduces Maternal Mortality in Rwandan District

{Photo credit: C. Tran Ngoc/MSH.}Photo credit: C. Tran Ngoc/MSH.

Before RapidSMS, a cell phone-based technology designed to support maternal and child health at the community level, was in place people in remote areas of Rwanda couldn’t access health care easily. Extremely ill patients were brought to facilities using hand-carried stretchers. Pregnant women often preferred to deliver at home or occasionally delivered on the way to the health center.

RapidSMS conveys simple text messages from community health workers to facilities to report specific events during the course of a woman’s pregnancy, delivery, and the first year after the infant’s birth. At the national level, these messages are automatically retrieved into a web-enabled database.

The system was first implemented in Rwanda with UNICEF funding on a pilot basis. After proving its feasibility, a national roll-out was initiated in June 2010 by the Rwandan Ministry of Health’s Community Health Desk and its partners. The USAID-funded Integrated Health Systems Strengthening Project (IHSSP), managed by Management Sciences for Health, assisted the Ministry in developing a detailed roll-out plan and budget, organized a curriculum development workshop, trained trainers, and completed the procurement of 10,000 of the 45,000 cell phones.

Now, the health system is aware of the number of pregnant women in the community, and community health workers can easily communicate with health centers about emergencies. When a pregnant woman begins labor, the community health worker sends a short message to the central level. Shortly afterwards, an ambulance comes to take the expecting woman to the health center. The district of Musanze, in the north of the country,has reported a dramatic decline in maternal mortality since the system has been in place.