Why mHealth is an opportunity to improve Maternal and Child health in India

Written by- Aakash Ganju, Country Director, MAMA India

Over the last two decades, India has made great progress in reducing the likelihood of a woman or baby dying due to pregnancy related complications. In 1990, one out of every 166 women was likely to die in pregnancy or after childbirth and one out of every 12 infants was likely to die in the year after being born. Today, one out of every 550 pregnant women and one out of every 25 infants are likely to die due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. Despite the progress, India significantly malnourished childlags behind many other countries in these statistics.

In more developed countries, only one out of every 13,000 mothers and one out of every 333 infants is likely to die. Other developing countries including China, Sri Lanka and Indonesia have shown that the neither the size of the economy nor population need be a deterrent in addressing this challenge effectively. So while India’s progress is encouraging in absolute terms, it does not provide solace to the more than 20 million mothers and infants that we weren’t able to save during the last 20 years, or to the 10 million more mothers and children that are likely to die in the next 10. We clearly have a long way to go before we can claim some success in making India significantly safer for our mothers and children.

The pace of change has to accelerate and we have to do much more than we have over the last 20 years. It is in this context that it is exciting to look at the opportunities presented by the mobile revolution in India.

Between 1995 and 2002, India had six million mobile subscriptions. During the next 10 years, India’s mobile subscriptions grew to more than 800 million. Mobile phones are ubiquitous today, even in rural communities. Their proliferation has increased faster and deeper than any other service. More Indians today have access to a mobile phone than a toilet, a functional road or any other service that is regularly consumed.

This presents an opportunity to address many needs of the underserved populations in India. In health, mobile based solutions are being tested in many countries around the world, including India, to explore how these devices can help improve services. Specifically, mobile based solutions are being used to explore how relevant information can be provided to the most vulnerable people so they can access more government-provided health services. Target users are empowered with information on when, where and how to utilize these services. In return, this generation of demand may push the government to provide better services. A number of different models are also exploring how the mobile device can be used to empower doctors and healthcare providers to deliver better care to target populations. This can help improve the efficiency and the sophistication of the services provided.

The mobile revolution is no panacea to India’s challenges in meeting health commitments to our mothers and children. We still need to understand better  what services may work best and how underserved populations use mobile phones. We still need to invest in more healthcare workers and improve availability of these services into India’s vast landscape. Despite the challenges, the use of mobile phones to provide better healthcare is a unique opportunity to provide a better future to our mothers and children, and I am confident that our work in mHealth will not only be one solution in and of itself, but it will also help strengthen more traditional health interventions.




Photo 1: Malnourished child, photo courtesty Calcutta Rescue.

Graphic: Source Annual Report 2012-13; Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

Photo 2: Women on mobile phones, photo courtesy Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank 


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