For Pregnant Women In Urban Slums, A Voice On The Phone Is Proving To Be A Lifesaver

Posted by Shikha Sharma in Health and Life, Inspiration
January 20, 2017

When Mitali Patil first visited KEM hospital, she was three months pregnant with her second child. “I have a daughter who is 8 years old and this pregnancy wasn’t planned. I wasn’t even sure if I should keep the baby or abort it,” Patil, who stays in Palghar, Mumbai, says.

A call to a very special friend, however, helped Patil reach a decision.Talking about it, Patil, who delivered a boy 6 months later says, “She noticed the dilemma I was in and talked to me as a friend would. I was unsure and scared because I wasn’t prepared for this.” The friend not only helped her during the pregnancy, but also became her one-stop shop for crucial post delivery information.

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Patil’s friend, though, wasn’t someone who spoke to her in person, but a friendly voice over the phone that she reached through mMitra – a mobile application that provides timely, targeted information about pregnancy to women living in urban slums in cities like Mumbai and Delhi. “Even though this was my second pregnancy, I used to panic over little things. mMitra calls were so perfectly timed,” Patil adds.

All a woman has to do is register on the app, and provide details such as her name, gestation period of the baby, language choice and time slot preference, and mMitra takes care of the rest. Through 145 calls spanning 9 months of information, the free mobile voice call service then provides timed, targeted and comprehensive information about the pregnancy to women.

Since its launch a year ago, the app has already registered more than 6 lakh women from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan. The voice calls are in the local dialect, specific to the woman’s gestational age or the age of the infant and are sent weekly/twice a week directly to pregnant women and mothers with infants in their chosen language and time slot.

“As a residency student, I often observed how lack of quality access resulted in loss of life and that it was totally preventable. At government hospitals, nobody has time to attend patients, let alone counsel them. That said, pregnancy is a very dynamic time where a woman’s body undergoes changes on a weekly basis and every woman requires information. So it just struck me one day – everybody owns a mobile phone these days. Why can’t the phone be used to dispense information? Not only would it be super easy and cost effective, but we could provide much more information than a doctor could hope to do if he attended to the woman every week in person,” says Dr Aparna Hegde, Founder of ARMMAN, an NGO based out of Mumbai, and the brain behind the app.

According to the World Health Organization, one in 5 women in India die every hour from complications developed during childbirth. At 39 deaths per 1000 live births, India’s infant mortality rate also has a huge scope for improvement.

“Rural poor women living in urban slums in big cities are especially vulnerable. Leaving their homes, they come to big cities, totally divorced from their communities with little or no support.The idea of mMitra is to be an elder sister the women don’t have here especially when it comes to matters of pregnancy,” Hegde adds.

Encouraged by the response that the app has received, Hegde is already planning on reaching more states, as well as adding information related to malnutrition and HIV-AIDS risk on the app.

Success of the app aside, Hegde says, the most meaningful part of the whole enterprise has been watching women take control of their own lives. “Knowledge is everything. Once the women know things, they are able to make better decisions. I see women everyday who are choosing to not just take control of their own bodies, but also asking for a say in family planning. With knowledge, their outlook is changing. That, for me, is the most satisfying,” says Hegde.

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