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Mobile links mothers, medicine

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Mobile phones are appealing to those who find face-to-face interaction difficult, says SHM Foundation director, Anna Kydd.

For an HIV-positive, pregnant woman in Africa, a simple SMS message can often make the difference between having a healthy baby and becoming another statistic.

Across the developing world, mobile and ICT-based healthcare initiatives are helping to prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV, by providing emotional and logistical support to women.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are 1.4 million pregnant women worldwide who are HIV-positive. Of these, 1.3 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, and without any interventions, 40% will have HIV-positive babies.

This means more babies are born with HIV in a single clinic in Africa each year than in the US, Canada and England combined. Yet, the medication needed to prevent transmission is widely available. Studies have shown that a single dose of Nevirapine given to a mother during labour, and a dose to her infant shortly after birth, can cut transmission risk nearly in half.

The focus on MTCT prevention is growing both locally and globally. In November last year, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for health Dr SM Dhlomo stressed the importance of maternal and newborn healthcare in SA, adding that implementing and monitoring new technologies are critical components of prevention and treatment.

In 2010, the UN secretary-general introduced the Global Strategy for Women and Children's Health, which for the first time identified the role ICT can play in accelerating progress toward safer pregnancies and births.

The UN notes that maternal healthcare is heavily dependent on access to accurate and timely information, which enables health workers to respond faster and deliver better services.

On this front, mobile technology is a rising star in the sector, as a tool that is both powerful and relatively accessible in most emerging countries. The International Telecommunications Union estimates nearly 70% of the population in the developing world had access to a cellphone, which can provide relevant, life-saving information, on a device people have with them all the time.

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