How Texting Can Save Lives
A Google search for, “How to have a healthy pregnancy,” returns about 123,000,000 results in 0.38 seconds. Information on the Internet is practically unlimited, and much of the developed world uses that to its advantage. But in the developing world, Internet access is hard to come by, which can leave many questions unanswered for nearly two-thirds of the world that reside in developing countries.

Less than 10 percent of the African population has Internet access, which limits their access to important information. Conversely, nearly 50 percent have mobile phones, and utilize text messaging to communicate. Frontline SMS was created to ensure that the global population has access to vital information provided by aid agencies and news services, despite being offline.

Each year, 350,000 women and girls die from pregnancy or childbirth related issues. Frontline SMS is easily used by health workers to send SMS messages through inexpensive, pre-paid SIM cards without the need for an Internet connection. These messages can provide pregnant women with tips on pregnancy and motherhood or explain ways to mitigate potential risks.

There are 70 million mobile phones in the Philippines, compared to only 7 million land lines throughout the country. This statistic led to the development of a program that educates expectant mothers on healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood; the Mobile e-health System for Safe Motherhood Program was launched in 2010 to help the Philippine Government reach the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015. The program uses mobile phones, more specifically Frontline SMS text messaging, to disseminate vital health information to pregnant women and new mothers.

Women who registered for the program during prenatal checkups received messages on safe pregnancy and delivery, the baby’s phases of development, tips on preparing for labor, common pregnancy issues, breastfeeding, neonatal care, child immunization, and the benefits of hospital versus home childbirth. Any questions raised by mothers were forwarded to their respective midwives, and the midwife’s response was sent, by the system, directly to the mother.

The Mobile e-health System for Safe Motherhood found that the program influenced parents to deliver their children in health facilities rather than at home. It also facilitated the recording of pregnancies and births. This data enables midwives to prepare for pre- and post-natal care in regions where health resources are scarce. Real-time information about pregnancies and births can lead to improvements in maternal care and decreased maternal mortality. Frontline SMS enhances communication in the developing world and lends itself to be an invaluable asset to the health care industry and human welfare, in general.

– Dana Johnson

Sources: Frontline SMS, Women Deliver,
Photo Source: Chris Pirillo Blog

According to the Hunger Project, a non-profit organization that works to end global hunger, “malnutrition occurs when the variety or quality of food is insufficient to support proper development and health.”

Roughly 15 percent of babies born in developing countries are of low birth weight due to maternal malnutrition, and even those born at a healthy weight are at risk for malnutrition due to insufficient breastfeeding. Malnutrition causes one-third of global child deaths, perpetuated as undernourished women give birth in low-resource settings.

When a malnourished woman gives birth to a low-birth weight baby that has already been affected by her mother’s malnourishment, the child will suffer from a compromised immune system and will most likely stay malnourished, even when she reaches reproductive age. Her child, too, will be born malnourished, and the cycle of malnourishment will continue.

Seeking to break the cycle of malnourishment, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada is developing a daily microencapsulated micronutrient powder through its affiliate SickKids.

Called “Prenatal Sprinkles,” this powder contains iron, folic acid and calcium. Pregnant and lactating women in poor areas can simply sprinkle their food with this supplement in order to combat malnutrition.

Prenatal Sprinkles will help to combat anemia during pregnancy, which often leads to premature birth, and preeclampsia associated with hypertension, which often causes maternal and fetal death.

Prenatal Sprinkles can potentially lower maternal hypertensive disease related mortality by 20 percent and preterm birth by 24 percent. Previously, supplements could not contain both iron and calcium due to poor absorption, but Prenatal Sprinkles contain differential time-release nutrients that increase iron and calcium absorption and prevent calcium-iron interaction. They also have a smooth texture and a pleasant flavor, making them palatable for malnourished women.

The Hospital for Sick Children is partnering with companies in the private sector in order to finance the production of Prenatal Sprinkles, but the projected cost of mass production is very low for the supplement.

Though Prenatal Sprinkles are not yet in wide circulation, they offer a simple and cost effective solution to malnutrition, a problem that cannot be solved by food aid alone.

Katie Bandera

Sources: Sprinkles (R) 60mg Fe for Pregnant and Lactating Women, Issues: Malnutrition
Photo: Girls’ Globe

Millions of people worldwide live with the absence of available food sources. From our Western perspective, this is often difficult to understand as well as painful to imagine. However, the world without food is not without hope. Here, we focus on 5 ways to not only stop hunger in its current state, but also prevent it from happening in the first place.

1. Look to the Future.
Breaking the cycle of hunger is not possible without future-mindedness. So many countries go hungry due to lack of investment—no one sends aid because the hungry population is not prospering, the population is not prospering because they don’t have enough food to function…and the nightmare goes on. Investing in the future and electing smart leaders who have a plan to fight this epidemic is crucial to ending current and preventing future starvation.

2. Focus On Women.
Women make up 60% of the world’s hungry. Starving women means malnourished babies or failed pregnancies, and even those pregnancies that do come to term often lead to another hunger-stricken life.

Women tend to go hungry more often than men, because women are more likely to have unequal access to resources, education, and income—all because they tend to participate less in decision-making. Healthy women will bear healthy babies, raise them into healthy children, and create healthy adults.

3. Invest in Livestock and Agriculture.
Think of the famous saying,  “Catch a man a fish, and feed him for a night. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Sustainable production of food is essential for starvation prevention, and healthy communities. Most starving countries have poor agricultural systems due to drought or lack of water sanitation.

However, it is not the drought itself that erodes food security in a population. The real issue here is an areas vulnerability to drought because of chronic underinvestment in their lands and livestock.

A population’s land may be infertile so no one invests in improving it for fear of little return, but the land is infertile because the people don’t have the resources to cultivate it; the people don’t have the resources to cultivate the land because no one is investing in it. A modest investment can break this cycle.

4. Find Out How You Can Help.
Hunger won’t end without all of our help. All of us—every human being on the planet—need to commit to fighting starvation in order for it to end. Something as simple as volunteering at a food back, or something as radical as campaigning on Capitol Hill will move our world toward an age where no one dies of starvation.

– Kali Faulwetter

Source: Ready Nutrition, Revolution Hunger, Trust, World Food Programme
Photo: ICNA Relief

Many of us spent some time in May being thankful for our mothers. Something else that we may not think to be thankful for is the healthy and sanitary conditions mothers were able to give birth in. For women living in developing countries, this is a huge concern for pregnant women. One country, however, has proven to be the worst place to give birth: Chad.

This statistic was identified by the organization, Save the Children, in their annual Mother’s Index. The group uses an index that includes a woman’s risk of death during childbirth or pregnancy. Chad was deemed the worst place for a mother to give birth because 1 in 15 mothers are at high risk of dying while pregnant or in child labor.

A contributing factor to these startling statistics is that women get married and become pregnant at a young age. 50% of girls are mothers by the age of eighteen. These girls are at risk because their bodies are not fully developed enough to safely experience pregnancy and childbirth. Malnutrition is also a concern for mothers in Chad. High levels of poverty make healthy diets unattainable for many mothers.

The second worst country for women to give birth in is Somalia. This country is the highest ranking in not providing proper care during pregnancy, with 74% of women not receiving adequate care. Somalia also is barely behind Chad in terms of the risk of death during pregnancy and childbirth. In Somalia, one in sixteen women are at risk. The newborn child is also at danger when it is born in Somalia. About eighteen newborns die per 1,000 live births.

Other countries that are ranked in worst places to have a child are Niger, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea. In order to improve childbirth conditions in these developing countries, it is necessary to invest in health systems and the training of health employees, midwives and other who may assist in the birth process. With these improvements in healthcare, more women will survive and be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with their children.

– Mary Penn

Source: Devex, Save the Children
Photo: Global Giving

Pathfinder International

Aisha gave birth to her 9th child at home in Nigeria in 2009. Hemorrhaging and in shock, she was immediately rushed to the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital in Kano, northern Nigeria. Upon arrival her blood pressure was very low and she had lost a lot of blood, a leading cause of maternal death in developing countries. Doctors immediately wrapped Aisha in an anti-shock garment that encourages blood flow to all parts of the body. In places like Nigeria, it can take several hours for a patient to receive the blood they need. In Aisha’s case, it took 4 and a half hours. Without this garment, Aisha would likely have died, waiting for blood.

Aisha’s story is all too familiar for millions of women around the world. Access to pre and postnatal healthcare as well as general sexual health resources, in developing nations is limited, if available at all, and women often die during childbirth. Pathfinder International, however, is an organization dedicated to bringing vital, life saving sexual and reproductive health care education and practices to the people that need it most.

222 million women today lack access to contraceptives. They have limited ability to choose when, if, and how often to have children. When women are educated and empowered with the ability to make these decisions, they are happier and healthier. Their children are more likely to stay in school longer and in turn lead longer, more productive lives.

Pathfinder International, founded in 1957, is active in more than 20 countries today in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. They have five key areas of focus in addition to maternal and newborn health. These include education and services for adolescents, HIV, contraception and family planning, abortion, and advocacy. Multi-level collaboration and data are key components of the work they do. They partner closely with NGOs, community and faith-based organizations, local governments, and individuals and emphasize collecting reliable, consistent data to improve programs and provide accountability to donors.

For more information about Pathfinder International and to find out how you can help, visit their website.

– Erin N. Ponsonby

Sources: Pathfinder International
Photo: Hope Ofiriha