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Using SMS text alerts to increase health care in Senegal

As part of the SMS text alerts to increase health care, a woman shows us how she uses her alerts.

Through SMS text alerts, parents are reminded of health care appointments and are made aware of basic health practises

18 June, 2012: Health care can be hard to come by for many families in West Africa. Pregnant women and new mothers need regular health care but health centres are sometimes too far away, and those families with local health centres do not think about using the centre and making appointments.

Realising how important it is to care for young, vulnerable pregnant women and new mothers, Plan set up a project to help families attend health care appointments. Through the use of SMS text alerts, women receive updates on mobile health clinic visits to their villages and dates and times of appointments to visit doctors or specialists.

The SMS text project

Funded by USAID and in partnership with Sonatel (the largest telecommunications system in Senegal), the project aims to provide a better understanding of the importance of health care and doctor visits are, especially for pregnant women. In Senegal and across West Africa, pregnant women often go months before seeing a doctor or nurse, if at all.

“In our village, a woman would be 7 months of pregnant before going to the doctor. Now, at the first signs of pregnancy the woman begins receiving reminder messages about visiting the doctor,” explains Sene, a woman who benefits from the SMS alerts.

Raising awareness of general health practises

The SMS text alerts also provide regular information updates on the health and wellbeing of parents and their children. These alerts remind families to practise good hygiene, like washing hands after using the toilet and before eating.

“The alerts give us general awareness of many things we should know about our health and the health of our children like washing your hands and how important it is to breastfeed for at least 6 months. These are all things we do now that we ignored in the past,” explains Fatou, a mother benefitting from the project.

Vaccinations for children

Although vaccinations are available, many parents do not know about them and how to go about getting them for their children. The SMS alerts also send out regular updates on vaccination availability for children, so parents know when and where they can have their children vaccinated.

“Because of the SMS I receive, I know when I can have my children immunised. Now unlike the past, I have the reflex to take my child to the health centre and to have them vaccinated against horrible diseases,” explains Fatou.