M-health initiative – LUCY mobile service in Ethiopia

Why m-health?
Mobile technology is considered to be a promising method to care for people living in rural and hard to reach areas. M-health can be defined as an innovation in health technology whereby information is being sent to mobile devices of the individual. Research has shown that education through text messages is highly effective because it may improve behavioral change in the future and in many cases it increases the clinical attendance of patients with their healthcare provider.

Text and voice messaging via mobile phones is a very efficient and effective method to use in promoting healthcare. The use of cell phones is increasing worldwide and people are used to have their cell phone on them at all times and are familiar to mobile services. This is why enhancing healthcare through mobile phones has great potential. By sending messages to pregnant women via mobile phones, women know exactly when to visit the health clinic and it decreases the referral time and care costs burden due to unnecessary transportation costs. Furthermore, m-health offers a great opportunity to create awareness and to provide education through text messaging via mobile phones.

M-health in Ethiopia
Within the Health[e]Families project in Ethiopia, a m-health service was initiated and named LUCY (after the ancient skeleton of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia). LUCY was developed in collaboration with TTC Mobile, a Dutch technology group with extensive experience in building and implementing SMS information systems in Africa.

LUCY is a free and anonymous mobile SMS and voice messaging service for pregnant women and mothers of newborns, who are interested in receiving more information about their pregnancy and how to take good care of their newborn baby. All messages are written in accordance with the Ministry of Health recommendations and are available as voice and text messages in English and the local languages of Ethiopia: Amharic and Oromo. LUCY sends one to three voice and text messages per week about antenatal care visits (including reminders); Water And Sanitation Hygiene (WASH); fetal development; healthy behavior; healthy nutrition; danger signs; breastfeeding; birth preparedness; family planning; newborn care; danger signs in newborns; and vaccines.

During the Health[e]Families Ethiopia project period, Health[e]Foundation established a partnership with the Danish Maternity Foundation to expand the reach of the mobile service. Maternity Foundation concentrated on enrolling Ethiopian women in the Gimbie area through their community workers and Health[e]Foundation implemented LUCY mainly in Addis Ababa.

LUCY in 2018
In 2018, technical partner TTC Mobile unfortunately was declared bankrupt and therefore a collaboration with Viamo was established. Viamo is a global social enterprise with the aim to improve lives via mobile phones, such as LUCY.

After some busy months where LUCY was transferred from TTC Mobile to Viamo, LUCY was up and running by April 2018 during the kick-off workshops in Addis Ababa and Gondar. Over 150 motivated participants from the Ethiopian Midwives Association started with the recruiting of pregnant women and mothers of newborns for LUCY. At this moment, already more than 550 women are successfully registered in LUCY and are receiving interesting information via voice and text messages.
Currently, Maternity Foundation and Health[e]Foundation are developing a new set of messages for women who have children up to 1 year of age. These messages will inform the mothers about immunization and how to care for a newborn.