It has been five years since messaging service MomConnect was launched and it has had over 2.7 million users who represent 80% of pregnancies within the public sector. MomConnect sends messages to users via either WhatsApp or SMS which promotes better health care choices for pregnant women and mothers with children under the age of 2-years.
Charity Nkambule (27) was eight weeks pregnant when she visited her clinic and signed up for MomConnect.
“It was my first pregnancy and I didn’t know what to expect, but through the app and the messages they would send, I learnt about the different stages of pregnancy and what to expect.”
Lerato Rabekane (21) signed up on the app when she was in the second trimester of her pregnancy at 24 weeks.
“I had been going to a private doctor because I didn’t want people from my community to see me at the clinic. When I finally went, my parents already knew that I was pregnant and I didn’t have to worry about what other people will say.”
Rabekane found one of the messages that she received reassuring. “I had experienced some bleeding during my pregnancy and the SMS explained that bleeding was sometimes normal especially in the weeks leading up to the expected due date so my fears were allayed.”
Thando Dlamini* (26) was four months pregnant when she signed up to receive messages from MomConnect.
“I learnt about what to expect from my body as it changes and what signs to look out for as the baby grows, especially knowing whether they are danger signs or not.”
It’s about communication
MomConnect senior project manager, Jessica Manim says that besides improving the achievement of critical maternal milestones, the app seeks to improve delivery.
“The MomConnect programme has a three-pronged approach that aims to create demand for services and ensure that these services are of high quality. The feedback loop mechanism aids in creating this quality and support offered to nurses (through NurseConnect) aims to help them achieve quality services.”
According to Manim, users on MomConnect are highly engaged with the helpdesk receiving between 1 000 to 7 000 messages a day.
“Users can respond to any SMS or WhatsApp message with compliments, complaints or questions. Overall, the programme has had generally positive feedback from users and receives 10 times more compliments than complaints.”
She says that the complaints received often relate to issues at clinics such as stockouts of iron pills or certain vaccines. These are then escalated to the department of health for attention and resolution.
There are still challenges to overcome
Despite the high number of women who engage with the app and messages on maternal and child nutrition, statistics are showing that feeding behaviours are still not aligned with the information shared by various government programmes.
The South African Early Childhood Review (SAECR) published this year, shows that only 32% of children were exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Vitamin A deficiency was prevalent in 13% of women aged 16 to 35 years, a number that is below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standard. In children, Vitamin A deficiency affected 44% of them.
The review also shows that 33% of women were anaemic and 61% of children between 6-59 months had the same condition. About 27% of children under 5 were stunted, while 6% were underweight and 13% were overweight.
How women have interacted
Nkambule is one of the women who have interacted with the app. “I didn’t have any complaint or question but I did send feedback to them after the birth of my baby.”
While Dlamini* sent questions, they were never answered. “I did try to send questions a few times but they were never responded to.”
Once a woman has given birth, the messages are centred around the baby where mothers get information on postnatal care, six months exclusive breastfeeding; and the vaccination of children.
Rabekane didn’t follow the advice on the feeding of her child.
“I fed my baby solids when he was three days old because I thought he was hungry when he would cry even after being breastfed. I have however learnt about the importance of raising my child who is now a year old, in a loving and safe environment.”
Nkambule also finds value in the app.
“The app is very useful especially for first-time mothers who don’t have any experience when it comes to pregnancy and raising babies. I have also realised that they offer support to mothers who have lost their babies.”
Dlamini says that she is yet to see the benefit of using the app because her baby is only a month old.
Expansion of the service
The app is a national department of health programme and plans are underway to expand the content which currently ends when a child turns 2-years-old.
“There are plans to expand the content to run up until the child reaches the age of 5. This will be in line with the Side-by-Side campaign run by the department of health,” adds Manim. – Health-e News
*Not her real name.