Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA)

31 August 2016

Hillbrow,Johannesburg – 31 August 2016

Imagine getting accurate, reliable information on everything from
breastfeeding to eating well in pregnancy and when to visit the clinic, directly on your cell phone?

This is the power of health that the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) is putting in the hands of expectant and new mothers with the launch of MAMA in South Africa.
The launch of MAMA is especially potent in a country where the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is estimated at 300 per 100 000 live births (2010 figures, CIA World Fact Book) and at a time when 3.1 million newborn deaths occur every year across the globe.

But with 1 billion women in the developing world now owning a mobile phone, putting the power of health in the hands of pregnant and new mothers can directly assist in reducing South Africa’s MMR from the 300 per 100 000 live births baseline to 270 by 2014 (as set out by the Department of Health’s Strategic Plan For Maternal, Newborn, Child and Women’s Health and Nutrition in South Africa).

South Africa now joins Bangladesh in the implementation of MAMA’s innovative maternal,newborn, and child health solution that delivers culturally sensitive, vital health information through mobile phones to mothers living in poverty.

The widespread use and availability of mobile phones provides MAMA with a powerful channel to support and educate mothers, providing them with life-saving information through an intimate medium. The latter is particularly important in a country where 30% of pregnant mothers are HIV-positive (with many learning of their diagnosis for the first time when they are tested antenatally) and 40% of maternal deaths are related to HIV/AIDS.

Among those attending MAMA South Africa’s national launch at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, was MAMA Global Director, Kirsten Gagnaire – whose extensive experience in Africa includes her previous role as Ghana Country Director for the Grameen Foundation.

“The national launch of MAMA South Africa and the partnership with the Vodacom Foundation is a significant step for more moms living in poverty, many of whom are living with HIV, to access culturally sensitive, vital health messages to improve their lives and the lives of their babies,” Gagnaire says.

“Every mother should have access to health information delivered in a timely, accessible manner. Through innovative public/private partnerships like this, we have the opportunity to put the power of health in every mama’s hand.”

Launched in 2011 in the USA, MAMA is a partnership of USAID, Johnson & Johnson, United Nations Foundation, mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter. South African partners in MAMA’s national rollout are Praekelt Foundation, Cell-Life, WRHI and Vodacom Foundation.In a contribution valued at R480 000, a total of 6000 Vodacom subscribers accessing the newly built Shandukani maternal health centre in Hillbrow, where Vodacom is a founding sponsor, are now able to also access critical maternal health information via SMS. These SMSs will provide the expectant mothers with a full set of 174 MAMA SMSs that will be based on the woman’s gestational stages. The SMS will run from the day of the opt-in until the baby is one year old. The partnership with the Vodacom Foundation includes the hosting of MAMA South Africa’s mobile service on Vodacom’s Vodafone Live, reaching over 30.6 million Vodacom customers. Partnering with MAMA SA supports Vodacom’s belief that its mobile communication technology can help address some of the country’s most pressing humanitarian challenges in the areas of education, health and security.

“The use of mobile technology in the MAMA project will make health awareness accessible to all women, regardless of their geographical location,” comments Vodacom’s Chief Officer: Corporate Affairs, Maya Makanjee. “Furthermore, most maternal and child mortality incidents are preventable, and awareness through the use of mobile technology will play a key role in addressing these incidents.”

“MAMA SA’s goal is to take the project to scale and reach 500 000 mothers in South Africa in two years,” explains Gustav Praekelt of Praekelt Foundation, MAMA’s technology partner which builds open source, scalable mobile technologies and solutions to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in poverty. At the launch, Praekelt demonstrated how MAMA works on a mobile phone, referencing the fact that its test phase has already seen 2224 registered users from clinics receive over 82 000 SMSes with close to 15 000 unique users accessing the mobi site.

Currently MAMA South Africa consists of an SMS programme offered through two clinics in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, a dynamic community portal ( and a USSD-based interactive quiz service. MAMA South Africa aims to expand to include voice services for mothers with low literacy, and a portal on MXit – a popular mobile social network. The national rollout is expected to be enhanced by additional partners assisting in taking MAMA SA to scale and an awareness campaign, driven through the mobile networks, the media and clinics.

“Not all mamas, old and new, know how to take care of their babies or how to take care of themselves when they are pregnant or when they are about to deliver,” says registered MAMA user, Ntando Khumalo, who is expecting a baby.

Adds another user, Letty Mafu, “There is a big need for information. I don’t want anything to happen to my unborn baby. I like to know everything.”

“I joined when I was pregnant,” says 23-year-old Paneshe Chipikiri, mother to a three-month-old baby. “They (MAMA) taught me what to put in my bag and the danger signs to rush to the hospital so I didn’t have any problems with my delivery.”

The Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute is a key partner in MAMA SA’s rollout
– which has, among its aims, the improved health outcomes and reduced mortality for HIV-
infected women and their children. WRHI’s contribution also includes funding an additional 6000 non-Vodacom subscribers at both the Shandukani Maternal & Child Health Centre and the Esselen Street Clinic.

WRHI’s Dr Eugene Sickle, Deputy Executive Director: Strategy & Development and Dr Vivian Black, Director: Clinical Programmes both attended the launch.

“As an Institute we are committed to improving the health of all South Africans. We are specialists in reproductive health so we are particularly committed to ensuring good health care for mothers and their infants. We are delighted to be partners in this important initiative to improve South Africa’s maternal and child health outcomes,” said Dr Black.
The launch of MAMA South Africa aims to speed up the country’s progress in reaching Millennium Development Goal 4 (reducing mortality of children under 5 years of age by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015), and Goal 5 (reducing maternal mortality by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015).

Already, MAMA SA’s impact is being felt by the mamas who need it most. As user Sibongile Sabanda puts it, “It (MAMA’s SMS service) makes me a better mother because now I learn I must talk to her (my baby) and sing to her sometimes so she’s happy.”

About MAMA
The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) is an innovative public/private partnership
between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation), the mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter. MAMA engages an innovative global community to deliver vital health information to new and expectant mothers through mobile phones. MAMA began as a multi-million dollar investment to create and strengthen programmes in three countries – Bangladesh, India and South Africa and to enhance global capability of new and existing mobile health information programmes for moms in those countries and beyond.

About Praekelt Foundation
The Praekelt Foundation is a technology incubator that develops mobile technology solutions for social good. The organisation is a not-for-profit entity that develops innovative, open source mobile solutions offering life-saving information and services to people in Africa and other emerging markets.

About Wits RHI
The Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute is one of the largest research Institutes of the University of the Witwatersrand. Established in 1994 as the Reproductive Health Research Unit (RHRU) under the leadership of Professor Helen Rees, OBE, the Institute was formed on 1 October 2010 through a merger with Enhancing Children’s HIV Outcomes (ECHO) and has evolved into one of the largest programme implementation, research and training units of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Institute works with Government at a national and provincial level and has offices in
Johannesburg, Klerksdorp, Vryburg, Mafikeng and Emgwenya (formerly Waterval Boven, (Mpumalanga). Key research sites include Yeoville, Hillbrow and Emgwenya.

About Cell Life
Cell-Life is a non-profit organisation that provides technology-based solutions for the management of health in developing countries. It aims to address health-related challenges, such as distribution of antiretroviral treatments, continuous patient monitoring and evaluation, and collection and communication of information. This is achieved through the use and development of innovative software supported by existing technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet, in a manner that is appropriate for a developing country context.

Speaker profiles:

Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), a partnership between USAID, Johnson & Johnson, United Nations Foundation, mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter. Prior to MAMA, Gagnaire was the Ghana Country Director for the Grameen Foundation and led the initial implementation of MOTECH. She was the Founder of the Social Enterprise Group (SEG) and Sustayne, and has a depth of experience and passion for addressing social and environmental issues through profitable business ventures. Gagnaire was a consultant with KPMG Peat Marwick, specialising in management, technology, and organisational development consulting for health and human service agencies.

Dr. Eugene Sickle has a doctoral degree in Synthetic Organic Chemistry from the University of Cape Town and considerable post-doctoral experience in the area of Medicinal Chemistry. After several years in academia he moved to the WRHI to lead the Institute’s USAID-PEPFAR programme and to head the Strategy and Development Department. Dr Sickle is an expert in strategic financial and programme management.

Dr Vivian Black, Director of Clinical Programmes, is responsible for leading the clinical technical teams in providing technical support to the organisation and to the Department of Health and Social Development. Dr Black joined WRHI in March 2003 and worked in HIV prevention. She has been involved in initiating an integrated antenatal antiretroviral clinic at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and in the development of the Institute’s maternal health team. Prior to joining WRHI Dr Black worked in internal medicine and microbiology. Dr Black is a member of the South African National AIDS Council, where she is the Civil Society Chair of the Treatment Care and Support Technical Team.

Gustav Praekelt is the founder of Praekelt Foundation, which was established in early 2007 in response to the opportunities created by the rapid and unprecedented spread of mobile phones across Africa. Gustav, a digital entrepreneur and obsessive technologist, saw how many of the mobile technologies his consultancy developed could be used to give communities access to services and information which had previously been inaccessible. His belief in the power of mobile phones to transform Africa and the idea that technology should be available to all inspired him to establish the foundation.

Samantha Manclark
011 327 1540
082 556 5188

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