A partnership for healthy moms and babies in India

Members of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, Johnson & Johnson and BabyCenter learn from colleagues from Armman and other local NGOs while visiting the Fisher Folk community, a slum in Mumbai, India, where the mHealth program mMitra is being implemented. Photo by: Marc Luebstorff / MAMA

This week, we officially launched MAMA India and the mMitra program, which brings timed and targeted health information to women living Mumbai’s urban slums, delivered directly to their mobile phones.

It has taken more than 2.5 years of facilitating cross-sector partnerships to best understand the complex landscape of India and design just the right mHealth program for the unique needs of these urban mothers and their children. We couldn’t have done it without every single person involved, both locally and globally, who each brought unique experiences and perspectives that informed the work.

As mobile technology has grown the world over, so have mHealth programs, which are popping up all over the place. However, very few have been able to go beyond the pilot phase and truly reach large numbers of people and scale in accordance with the need. In less than three years, though, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action reached nearly 2 million women and families in Bangladesh and South Africa — with penetration into every single district in Bangladesh — in large part because of our model that leverages the power of partnership.

With a very small global team who facilitates cross-sector partnerships and input from global experts, MAMA relies heavily on our hand-picked local partners to apply the best global practices to their local context by assisting with the design and implementation of a program that suits their population. This results in a superior program that delivers highly localized information, provides important jobs to local staff and creates a network for global knowledge sharing.

mMitra, a voice call initiative by Armman with support by MAMA, can help to change the life of pregnant women and their newborn babies.

Which is just what we are doing in India, starting in the urban slums of Mumbai. When we first surveyed mhealth there, we found the local NGO Armman was leading the way with its visionary work, so began a conversation with them to become one of our lead implementing partners. Since then, a robust ecosystem of partners has formed, including strategic philanthropic foundation Dasra, which works with social entrepreneurs, and web development company Inscripts, which understands the mobile landscape in India. Our local health partners are the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecological Societies of India, the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, hospitals from the state government, the Mumbai Municipal Corp. and many more NGOs who work directly with the women we serve. These partners understand the context here better than anyone — they know the specific health challenges faced by women and families, the best technology being developed locally, what has been tried and failed, and what just might have a chance of breaking through.

We combine that local expertise with our global partners — the U.S. Agency for International Development, Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation and BabyCenter — who bring significant knowledge and resources.

USAID has a steadfast commitment to our work, and continually invests in innovative programs that advance maternal, newborn and child health all over the world. They stood behind our early work in Bangladesh as the principal supporter. That work has gone on to inform everything we have done since, helping to grow not only MAMA’s country programs, but the dozens of community based programs who have utilized our messages and methods to enhance their own work.

J&J is one of the most trusted brands around the world and has long cared about women and babies enough to invest deeply in their well-being. Part of the J&J family of companies, BabyCenter has 18 years’ experience talking directly to moms in a way that not only gives them the information they need, but delivers that information in a way that resonates with them, as if it were coming from a trusted friend. BabyCenter provides all of MAMA’s global content, working side by side with our local partners to customize our standard set of health messages that provide the right information at just the right time, to make sure that the messages a mom receives speak to her health needs and are delivered in her local language and dialect, for her literacy level, referencing her cultural experiences and customs.

And this approach is working. Preliminary research from Bangladesh reveals that our subscribers are much more likely to exclusively breastfeed, seek the recommended number of pre and post-natal visits, and give birth in clinics — all behaviors that we know will have the health impacts we want. As our more formal research comes in, all signs point to real behavior change that improve the health of the most vulnerable women and children.

We have come a long way since our launch on Mother’s Day 2011, when MAMA was just an idea to leverage the growing proliferation of mobile phones the world over to improve maternal, newborn and child health, and we have learned a lot of lessons along the way. One thing that is abundantly clear: by bringing together the brightest minds and passionate hearts from all of the relevant sectors we have been able to accomplish much more together than we ever could alone.

Want to learn more? Check out the Healthy Means campaign site and tweet us using #HealthyMeans.

Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Kirsten Gagnaire

    Kirsten Gagnaire is the executive director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. Before joining 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 and Sustayne, and has a depth of experience and passion for addressing social and environmental issues through profitable business ventures.