Text4Baby – health messages on mobile phones

text4baby Yesterday (4/4/11) we had a telephone conversation with the UN Foundation about the Every Woman, Every Child initiative which was launched a couple of years ago after a review of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) revealed that there was a need to bring a lot more resource and effort behind the two MDGs associated with women’s and children’s health (MDGs #4 and #5).

During the conversation we talked about how the ColaLife pilot might use technology. We explained that we had a need to track the delivery of AidPods (configured as Anti-Diarrhoea Kits or ADKs) and a need for a system for the redemption of the vouchers we anticipate using to pump-prime demand for this new product in the target communities. However, we are also aware of the potential in other areas such as the use of phone-to-phone money transfer to pay for the AidPods along the supply chain and at retail kiosks. We are also very interested in the role mobile phones could play in the area of knowledge transfer and social marketing.

Despite all of this potential we have not yet found a partner who would be able to integrate all of this for us. We are also concerned that we may be trying to introduce too many new aspects to a pilot that already has two significant innovations within it:

  1. The use of the secondary Coca-Cola supply chain to distribute a public health product
  2. The creation and the marketing of a new ‘commodity’ – the Anti-Diarrhoea Kit

So whatever we do with technology will need to add significant value and be very simple to understand and use.

We all know that mobile phones are changing everything in Africa: communications; banking; information systems – health, marketing . . . . politics. But, like elsewhere, it seems to be the simple systems that have the biggest impact.

Yesterday, our UN Foundation contact pointed us towards the Text4Baby initiative in the United States which uses simple SMS to engage and inform mothers and mothers-to-be on issues around their health and well-being and the health and well-being of their new baby. This is how it is described on their website:

Get FREE messages each week on your cell phone to help you through your pregnancy and your baby’s first year.

Text4baby is an educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition.

I think it would make sense, and add value to the social marketing we are planning, if we gathered mobile phone numbers of mothers as we gave them their ADK Vouchers. We’d then be able to follow-up with weekly messages about the health of their child. What do you think? Please comment here.

For the sake of completeness and for future reference I wanted to include this video about the HealthPhone. Although this is impressive and indicative of the future it looks too advanced for our needs right now because:

  1. It uses a broadcast model that feels more like a hand-held TV
  2. It does not take advantage of the inherent personal nature of the mobile phone/SIM
  3. It uses smart phones which won’t be ubiquitous in Africa for a few years (although it won’t take long!)


  1. Magdalena Serpa says:

    Simon, it is a good idea. I would like to propose to add one step: provide mobile phones to the Community Health Workers (CHWs) in the communities where ADKs are distributed.

    Please see Saving Lives in Rural Malawi with Knowledge Management and Mobile Phones by Natalie Campbell on January 6, 2011 http://blog.msh.org/index.php/2011/01/06/saving-lives-in-rural-malawi-with-knowledge-management-and-mobile-phones/