In the developing world, the most effective healthcare solutions are often the most simple. A few years ago we featured FrontlineSMS:Medic, a service allowing medical workers in poor rural villages to communicate patient information with hospitals using free, two-way texts. Now, a Kenyan service called Totohealth is also aiming to use SMS as a lifesaving tool.
Totohealth is a social enterprise, directed at new parents and expecting mothers, that is aiming to use SMS messaging to greatly reduce the child and mother mortality rate, and minimise developmental defects in infants. The company works with hospitals and maternity centres to give vital information to patients, twice a week. These personalised texts are designed to dispel myths, offer advice and ensure that appointments and vaccinations are met. The texts can be translated into a variety of languages. The messages and their replies are then kept in a patient database which the health service can use.
The service is free for users, and is funded by the small fees paid by hospitals and NGOs to get their messages out. Pilots began last year in Nairobi and since then Totohealth has worked with over 6,000 mothers and fathers across nine hospitals, sending more than 133,000 texts in the process. Executive Director Felix Kimaru plans to expand to those areas of Kenya with the highest rate of mortality in children under five, before growing into Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa.
According to Kimaru, “preventive health in 3rd world countries is still far from being realized”, with many people believing that the health of citizens is in the hands of government and NGOs. Along with a swathe of other ‘mHealth’ platforms, Kimaru is aiming to change that, by empowering new parents with the information needed to take their own health in their hands.
Totohealth could have a substantial impact – both to the estimated 90% of Kenyans who own a mobile phone, and to hospitals benefitting from the patient monitoring on offer. Could other developing countries harness the power of text to such great effect?