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In many places of the world, when a woman gets pregnant it’s time to start a baby registry, decorate a nursery, and send out announcements so she can joyfully rally friends and family around her family’s impending new addition.
But in India’s poorest neighborhoods, pregnancy is very different. Young mothers, many of whom are in their teens, go through their entire pregnancy almost alone. Afraid of authority, many don’t seek help from a doctor -- or even understand why they should -- until they’re almost ready to deliver. And since many of these women can barely read and lack access to technology, they can’t even turn to the internet for answers and help.
But these young moms-to-be do have a lifeline -- literally. Most families are able to scrape together enough money to have one mobile phone, which everyone in the family shares. That’s how mobile messaging service mMitra is able to help over half a million pregnant women and new moms in India.
mMitra is a project of ARMMAN, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the well-being of pregnant mothers, newborn infants, and children in the first 5 years of their life. Johnson & Johnson is a principle partner in the mMitra program. mMitra sends free voice messages to women twice a week, targeted to each woman’s stage of pregnancy or the age of her infant. These messages, written in collaboration with BabyCenter, let her know, for instance, that her baby now has hair, or that it’s important to eat green vegetables for fetal development. mMitra tells moms what they need to know, when they need to know it.
The messages can be lifesavers. Tabbasun, 27, lives in the Vashi Naka neighborhood of Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai that most people call a slum. During her third pregnancy, she signed up for mMitra messages -- just in time, as it turned out.
“[During] the 20th week, the mMitra voice call briefed me about TB and its symptoms,” says Tabbasun, who up until that point, had been unaware she had tuberculosis, an infectious disease that can be very dangerous for a developing fetus.
“I was worried at first, but the mMitra calls gave me the courage to face the situation. I rushed to the hospital, did the sputum test, and started the treatment for TB,” says Tabbasun.
Mitra means “friend” in Hindi, and the messages are formulated to be as friendly as possible: They arrive at the same time twice a week, and the same voice speaks to the woman (and anyone else who’s listening) to gently inform her how to ensure the best health for her and her unborn baby.
Swati, 23, who lives in Dharavi, a neighborhood in Mumbia, India often called the largest slum in Asia, calls the mMitra calls “a true friend and counselor.”
“My husband Mahesh and I live by ourselves. When I got pregnant with Asmita there was no older person to turn to for an advice,” says Swati.
“Just recently Asmita was due for her vaccination, but she had a slight cold and cough. My neighbors told me not to get her immunized as she had a cold,” says Swati. “I was in a dilemma. Then the mMitra call came to remind me that Asmita was due for her vaccination and said that as long as the baby was not running a fever the vaccination could be given to her. I was so relieved and went and got her vaccinated.”
Every woman and baby deserves access to information and healthcare – and thanks to mMitra’s reach, hundreds of thousands of women and their children in India will get it.
Article published with permission from ARMMAN.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.