Mobile messages to help East Timor's mothers

Mobile messages to help East Timor's mothers

Mobile messages to help East Timor's mothers

Updated 10 December 2012, 13:04 AEST

A new health project in East Timor is hoping to harness the power of the mobile phone to promote better infant and maternal health.

East Timor has one of the world's highest rates of maternal and infant deaths.

Beth Elson, from Health Alliance International, has told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program Liga Inan, or Mobile Mums, is designed to reach pregnant women and new mothers with information about health and wellbeing.

"They haven't been tried in Timor-Leste (East Timor), but they have been tried in other countries with some success," she said.

"We discovered through our household survey that mobile phone ownership is rapidly increasing, so we thought this could be the perfect opportunity to combine traditional approaches to improve health outcomes with an innovative one using mobile phones."

Ms Elson says the program hopes to make it easier to communicate with pregnant women living in remote areas, and give them time to plan if they need to seek medical help.

"One of the key barriers in Timor is accessing health services - although it's a small nation, it's actually very mountainous and so a lot people live in very remote parts, and one of the difficulties is 'how do they get to the health facilities?'," she said.

"So some of these messages are reminders throughout the pregnancy...about the things they can do in terms of [arranging] transport or who's going to look after their other children."

The NGO says East Timor currently has 97 per cent mobile phone coverage, and two new operators are expected to enter the market in January, bringing coverage up to 100 per cent.

Ms Elson says one of the other possible issues - a low-level of literacy - has actually turned out not to be a barrier.

"In Manufahi district, 73 per cent of women reported that they can read Tetum...we asked [the others] was there somebody in their family that could actually read the message to them and 100 per cent of people said either a husband, family member or one of their children.

"For us, that's a really powerful positive component of mobile phone messages, because the messages are not just for the pregnant woman - they're designed for other decision-makers in the house, and culturally in Timor it's often the husband or the mother-in-law."

"So the more people in the household reading those messages, the better."