Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cell Phones Save Lives in Rwanda

The Rwandan government has created a program to give out hundreds of cell phones in an effort to help pregnant women and their babies. Almost 500 volunteer healthcare workers in Musanze, Rwanda have been given free phones in order to monitor expectant mothers. The workers send text messages with monthly checkup information to a central health clinic to which doctor's can respond back if there are any complications. In an emergency texts can be sent to the clinics. A response will be sent back quickly and an ambulance will arrive within minutes.
Before the cell phone system it could take up to an hour to get help. Rwanda is ranked among the world's worst for maternal mortality. Rwandan women mostly have their babies at home with untrained midwives, where many die from bleeding or infection. These issues are easily preventable with the right care. "We tend to lose people who are actually supposed to be developing this nation," said Dr. John Kalach, the director of the closest hospital in Ruhengeri. "We don't want to be in a nation where we lose pregnant ladies while they are giving life to others."
The program has been a big success. Since the program launched last year there have been no maternal deaths reported in the Musanze district, compared to reported deaths in 2008. According to UNICEF the next step will be to give out over 17,000 phones to health workers in charge of monitoring maternal health. Eventually they plan to distribute 50,000 phones to every volunteer health worker in the country. The program may even expand to other sectors like agriculture and education.

- Clara Hill