Rwanda’s SMS Platform Saving Thousands of Babies and Mothers
Introduced in 2014, RapidSMS helps to track women from the first day of gestation to child birth. To ease health care delivery, Rwanda has distributed free telephones to community health workers. Each handset is installed with software that tracks and reports about women and their baby’s health condition.
First, a health worker identifies cases of women in his or her village, says Erick Gaju, in charge of e-health at the Ministry of Health. The health worker counsels and advises mothers to send a message whenever an emergency occurs. In case of emergency, an SMS is sent to the toll-free number. The message is delivered to a central server. The system then sends a quick alert to a health center in the territory and tells them to intervene. The process takes a couple of seconds.
Gaju says that the technology has helped in delivery of “timely health care,” as in some instances, hospitals send ambulances at midnight, after an SMS is sent by voluntary community health workers and their work is yielding tremendous results, he says.
Over 91% of Rwandan women are assisted by a skilled health worker, all delivering from a health facility and receive antenatal care at least once during pregnancy and Rwanda’s Health Management Information System (HMIF) can now allow medical practitioners to follow up cases, from a hospital to another and to plan for referral cases. Rwanda believes technology drives efficient health care delivery. Rapid-SMS is one of the country’s investments in e-health.
A million US$ has been invested in the Electronic Logistic Management Information System to help physicians order drugs online. Analog-systems that required weeks of bureaucratic procedures have been abandoned.
This Rapid SMS initiative has provided mobile phones to over 17,000 community health workers in Musanze district, Northern Rwanda to enable them to track and respond to pregnancy related complications. A small chip inserted inside an ordinary mobile phone is helping mothers, families, health workers, district officials and Ministry of Health staff to ensure that pregnant mothers receive the best health care. The same technology had been introduced by UNICEF in Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia is being used to collect and analyze data.
Rwanda, officially known as the Republic of Rwanda is a sovereign state in central and east Africa and one of the smallest countries in the continent with 26,338 km2 (10,169 sq mi) land mass. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is in the African Great Lakes region and is highly elevated; its geography dominated by mountains in the west and savanna to the east, with numerous lakes throughout the country. The climate is temperate to subtropical, with two rainy seasons and two dry seasons each year. The population of 11,262,564 (2015 est) is young and predominantly rural, with a density among the highest in Africa. Christianity is the largest religion in the country; the principal language is Kinyarwanda, spoken by most Rwandans, with French and English serving as official languages.
The economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country’s leading foreign exchange earner. Rwanda is one of only two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely, and visitors are prepared to pay high prices for gorilla tracking permits. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan culture, particularly drums and the highly choreographed intore dance. Traditional arts and crafts are produced throughout the country, including imigongo, a unique cow dung art.