Cameroon: Solar Power, Text Messages Fight Maternal Deaths in Rural

Telecoms

Idenau — Julianna Senze, 40, had been in heavy labour for eight hours when she arrived at the Idenau Health Centre in Limbe, on the southwest coast of Cameroon.

Like many women in the country, she had had no prenatal care, so what should have been a routine delivery was now a high-risk medical procedure. The nurses, looking worn and tired, rushed her to the delivery room.

"We had to get her here quickly from Batoke village, some eight kilometres away, after receiving an SMS message from the doctor on duty," said her husband, his voice strained with worry. Less than an hour later, Senze safely delivered a healthy baby boy.

Only a few years ago, Senze's story could have had a more tragic ending. Cameroon has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. More than 7,000 women die due to pregnancy-related causes and 58,000 children under the age of 5 lose their lives every year in Cameroon, according to the United Nations Population Fund in Cameroon.

Most of them live in rural parts of the country, where health services are weakest. But a combination of solar energy and a new mobile phone platform, which gives women access to important health information, is changing that.

New renewable energy projects are giving more people the electricity they need to access health information, and giving hospitals power to deliver essential care, experts say.

The message that may have saved Senze's life was sent using Gifted Mom, a mobile platform founded by Cameroon engineer Alain Nteff in 2012.

The text-messaging service and app gives women in out-of-the-way rural communities free health advice, sending reminders about prenatal check-ups and children's vaccinations. It tells users when and where to get the treatment they need, and gives them access to doctors who can answer health-related questions.

According to Nteff, Gifted Mom is now used in all 10 regions of the country.
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