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Spreading health messages - texts making pregnancy safer in Afghanistan

The Hemayat project is supporting the improvement of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

Text messages are making pregnancy safer in Afghanistan. (image source: http://ow.ly/k1eR30dOhtx)

Hemayat specifically targets the 23 Afghan provinces where there is low coverage of essential family planning and maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) services. These are also areas where remote and insecure geography has led to consistently underserved populations.

To respond to this isolation, The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), supported Palladium and others through the Hemayat project, has conducted a four-month gender SMS campaign in 23 provinces of Afghanistan. Through this campaign, seven approved messages on gender and maternal health were delivered to approximately 800 Community Health Supervisors in order to increase community awareness about gender and health.

In event the most difficult terrains, technology can change the way critical health services are viewed and delivered. We hear from Fatima, a community health worker, who has begun using this text service to break new ground in her community.

Fatima's account was originally published on the website of the Afghan Ministry of Public Health's Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health Directorate. 

When Fatima, a community health worker in Injeel District of Herat Province, began receiving text messages on maternal health from a community health supervisor, she recognized their importance. She was determined to share them with other women and families in her community. “I decided to share these messages in every possible way,” Fatima said. “I not only forwarded the texts and passed around written messages with help from my daughter-in-law, but I also discussed them with women who come to my home for health education.” She also made a point of sharing the messages with both men and women during her home visits.

During one such visit, Fatima met 30 year-old Zahra, an expectant mother who had lost a baby during a previous pregnancy after engaging in heavy household work. Concerned that Zahra’s husband had insisted that she continue with these chores during her current pregnancy, Fatima made multiple visits to their home, patiently discussing the text message topics. One message focused on the risk that heavy household labor poses both for expectant mothers and unborn children, and the importance of encouraging all members of the household to contribute to chores.

“I decided to meet Zahra’s husband, so I went to their home and talked to him about the importance of antenatal care and helping pregnant women,” said Fatima. Although Zahra’s husband did not seem receptive during that first conversation, Fatima persisted. “I was not disappointed. And as I tried to explain the various health messages, it was interesting that in some cases, the health messages I received explained the exact conditions that Zahra had faced.”

Fatima’s persistence eventually paid off during her final visit, when Zahra’s husband said, “If someone had shared this information with us earlier, we might not have lost our first child.” Today, Zahra’s husband and other members of the family help out around the house, especially for more demanding physical activities. Together, Zahra and her husband are eagerly waiting for their new baby to join the family.