The use of mobile phones has been increasing at an accelerated rate all over Africa. In some regions we have seen the impact on health systems, where health centres are now able to call hospitals for an ambulance when there is an emergency.
While mobile phone coverage may exist it is not always used to its full potential to improve social services. Mobile coverage comes at a cost, and resources are not available to all. Ways must be found to make networks more accessible so they can be used to promote access to health care across the rural sector where long distances and bad roads make it all the more essential to provide a timely referral system for patients suffering complications.
This is what we did in the Kedougou region of Senegal. Kedougou region has the highest maternal death rate in the country (double the national average!). Bad roads, lack of communications system, and lack of transport options have contributed to the isolation of villages and small communities across the rural sector. One of the main problems women have is accessing proper medical if they suffer from a complication during delivery. They tend to arrive late to the hospital as many do not deliver with a skilled health worker who would refer them earlier and many do not have the means to be taken to hospital in a region where road infrastructure is poor.
So, we've distributed prepaid mobile phones to over 120 community health representatives. They don't have any medical training but act as a focal point between the community and the closest health centre during an emergency. They are women who are selected by their community to fulfill this role. Now if a woman has a complication during childbirth, the community health representative can call the closest health centre for support. We are also providing motorbike ambulances to take women to the health centre or to the hospital if necessary, in this way reducing further delays.
This is just a beginning in Kedougou region of Senegal. In Somalia we use an SMS system to provide information on services to treat obstetric fistula. This has permitted us to transfer women from southern Somalia to Somaliland for surgical repair.