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South African partnership hopes to prove text messages can save the lives of mothers and children

MAMA, a public-private partnership led by Johnson & Johnson and USAID, aims to inform pregnant women and new mothers via text messages. Despite its good intentions, the program is still proving itself.

Photo of Cameron Thomas
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Opprotunity to leverge moblie text messaging as a guide to proivde child development information at various stages of life:
  • How can this idea be improved?
  • What's the wide spread potential?

South Africa’s expectant and new moms can currently benefit from MAMA in one of four ways:
  1. Vodacom customers can access MAMA mobi content from Vodafone Live!, under “More Menu’s” and “Health and Lifestyle”, or simply go to (Free to Vodacom customers)
  2. Non­Vodacom customers can access the MAMA mobi content by visiting from their Internet­enabled mobile phone. (Normal data charges apply)
  3. Expectant and new mothers can access a weekly, informational quiz, also linked to the stage of pregnancy an expectant mother is at or the age of her baby. Dial *120*2112# to register, and re­dial the same number every “MAMA Monday” for the weekly quiz (cost 20c per 20 seconds)
  4. Prospective mothers can also access MAMA on MXit, by going to Mxit, and then to Discover Mxit ­ Apps & Games ­ Apps by Category ­ Health & Advice ­ MAMA.

The MAMA SMS channel has supported over 12,000 mothers from the greater Johannesburg region, but has now merged with the new National Department of Health’s maternal health programme, MomConnect. This programme officially launches on 21 August 2014 and will support an estimated 1 million pregnant women in South Africa, each year.

MAMA’s impact on the lives of South African moms is expressed best by a MAMA user: “his MAMA is giving us (information about) nutritious diet (and about) which veg or fruit to take during pregnancy time or trying time, so follow it.”- See more at:

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Great, honest insights on the article. Thanks for sharing, Cameron! Makes me wonder whether hybrid approaches (eg. text messaging + community health initiatives) might make for a stronger approach. Imagine of text messaging was teamed up with initiatives like this: which was prototyped on previous OpenIDEO challenge? I wonder what existing community health initiatives are out here which could benefit from a mash-up with text messaging?

You and others here might also want to check out: and join conversations there.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Cameron for sharing the article. I first only watched the video and I was not really sure what you meant by "Despite its good intentions, the program is still proving itself." but after reading the article things became clearer. A lot of great insights. You might want to summarize them and add them to your post as these are important point to keep in mind.

I originally wonder what were the issues and cost, which seems to be the key issue was only one. I also thought of connectivity? quality and presentation of content? trust?

I also thought that the idea of contrasting using funds for technology vs. using funds for training and developing resources is also an important question to keep in mind. I tend to not be convinced by approach that are only technology focused. I agree with Meena that hybrid approaches are very interesting and potential more powerful.

In addition to Toto Health mentioned by Meena, I would also check a post from a a previous challenge:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great additions, A-L! There's also some great insights on the limitations of mobile on this contribution:

Photo of Maurizio Bricola

Hi Cameron, Meena and Anne, indeed in our research we also studied the case of Mama along with the case of Health Child Uganda and our own program challenges. Anne I fully agree with you technology alone does not do anything, I have never seen a spoon eating a soup ;), let just be more gentle with embracing it and applying it. Human are the ones shaping technology and most important using it for improving the activities the would like to perform. A part from the costs there are other issues with SMS and mobile initiatives on the user side power and network coverage are the most challenging. And here is where we got this crazy idea of introducing a little piece of hardware that is powered by solar cells (like the old calculators) and does not need any network connection that could cost below 5 USD and be able to assist at least a woman and 2 children (A SMS service that would follow a woman and 2 children up to 5 years old would definitely cost more that 5 USD and provide less services to their users). Cheers

Photo of Meena Kadri

Love the soup + spoon analogy, Maurizio!

Photo of Catherine Collins

Love all of the comments here - perhaps there is a way to couple the SMS information resource with a mentorship type of program. The Birthing Project is an organization that pairs new mothers with "sister friends" (experienced mothers) in cities around the world.

HERE is a excerpt from their website:

"Birthing Project SisterFriends is an extended family model with each volunteer SisterFriend responsible for one pregnant woman. The pregnant teens and women range in age from 12 to 44 years old and in situations from married and employed but without the benefit of health insurance to unmarried with risk factors such as chronic disease, substance abuse and/or lack of basic resources (housing, transportation, etc.). "

Photo of Cameron Thomas

Catherine- Great share! This human intervention may lend well to supporting a self-sustaining community of knowledge via a messaging app platform that employs a 4G, bluetooth and wifi signals at no cost to the users as noted in Chimoa's earlier comment.

Photo of Maurizio Bricola

Hi Cameron, it is very difficult to offer free services, someone has to pay at the end (ultimately with her/his time), especially if the service is well provided and valuable. I am aware of great things happening in open source communities, but it is difficult to compare that with our specific case here. I will need an entire post to explain this now :), let me try to summarize: Open Source gives a software for "free", for example but still you need to do all the rest your self (and your time is not free), if you don't do it your self you will probably have to hire someone to do it, or ask a favour from a friend (favours are also not for free in the long run), etc..
I feel the quest is in our case what is a fair price or a fair model that reduces the costs on user side, or there might be some was to tap into public money. Most of the online free services based their revenues on ads or worst in selling aggregated users'data. So no money is asked to the users still they are paying with their privacy..

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