22 August 2014
The Department of Health has launched a new mobile phone-based messaging service to provide South Africa’s estimated 1.2-million pregnant women with free antenatal health care information.
The department will seek to register as many pregnant women as possible with the SMS service, MomConnect, which will both provide information and advice on pregnancy as well as notify the department about poor service.
Launching the service at Soshanguve Multipurpose Community Centre outside Pretoria on Thursdasy, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the service would advise women on what to do at any stage of their pregnancy and also encourage them to start ante-natal care at an early stage.
“We will say, Mom, since you registered with us you are now 13 weeks pregnant, this is what you must do, this is where you must go and this is what you must avoid.
“Even after the birth of the baby, we will continue to send the messages for the period of one year. The messages will include advice on the baby, this is what you must do, this is what the baby must get.”
He said pregnant women would also be able to send messages to the department to criticise or compliment the services they had received.
“In a particular period, we will be able to know from here in Pretoria that in the past six months that most of the messages that are bad were coming from a particular clinic.”
The R59-million project will be funded for the first two years by the US government, which is providing R49-million, and Johnson & Johnson and ELMA Philanthropies, each of whom contributed R5-million.
The department, with the help of its partners, has trained 10 300 health workers nationally to help pregnant women to register for MomConnect and to provide associated services.
“In the coming weeks, every health facility in the country will have at least one person who is trained and whose job will be to assist and register pregnant women,” Motsoaledi said.
Mobile operators Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom are providing a 50% discount on SMS’s sent to pregnant mothers as part of the service.
Pregnant mothers and health workers at the Motubatse Clinic in Soshanguve welcomed the initiative on Thursday. Pregnant mother Patricia Mokese, who is already registered, said the project would help them with their check-up dates, since this could be confusing.
“We have lot on our mind at home and work, and sometimes we forget to go to the clinics on time,” said Mokese, who is expecting her second child. “The project will help us, especially when something you don’t understand happens to you during the pregnancy. We can send a message for assistance.”
Sister Innocentia Hlongwane, who works at the mother and child ward in the clinic, said MomConnect would help expecting mothers to book their appointments early and provide them with information ahead of time.
“We can get early bookings for antenatal care,” Hlongwane said. “It will also reduce the risk of the maternal rate and help us as health workers because they will already know the warning signs if there is an emergency.”