mMitra started as a result of the experiences of Founder, Chairperson and Managing Trustee, Dr Aparna Hegde, who is a practicing gynecologist. India is one of the seven countries which accounts for half of the global maternal deaths. The doctors at the municipal hospitals are over loaded with patients and do not have the time to counsel the patients. More than ninety percent of the complications during the pregnancy can be prevented with preventive care information. The realization that timely information is crucial for saving lives of pregnant mothers and their newborns, led to the conception of technology based information service.
mMitra is a free mobile voice call service that provides culturally appropriate comprehensive information on preventive care and simple interventions to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in urban slums. mMitra is a friend and companion that guides the woman and the family through pregnancy and childhood. Hence, we came up with the name ‘mMitra’ for this project.
Why we choose mobile?
Almost 63.5 percent of households have mobiles in the slums of India. However, literacy is as low as 41 percent among women in Mumbai slums which renders text messaging futile and also does not have a connect with the beneficiary. Mass media messaging on radio and TV provide generic information, but are unable to address the concerns of the pregnant woman or mother of an infant, as they are not timed and targeted.
mMitra is the first to leverage this unique opportunity of using mobile technology to reach out to the beneficiaries with information that is appropriately timed to the stage of pregnancy or age of child and targeted to influence adoption of the right health behaviors among pregnant women and mothers of infants. The voice messages have been developed by Babycenter that were validated by Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecological Society of India (FOGSI) experts. These voice calls are sent weekly/twice a week free of cost and everyday during the first week after birth for a week, directly to the beneficiaries. The concept as strong, but what about funding? We found our perfect match with MAMA, whose mission is to engage an innovative global community to deliver vital health information to new and expectant mothers through mobile phones to achieve its goal. mMitra is ideal for working mothers who miss out on the counseling given by the Anganvadi or Asha workers. With mobile technology, information on taboo topics, such as AIDs can be given to the women directly in a discreet manner. Also, the mother in law is often taken into the loop while enrolling and often listens to the voice calls which dispels many age old myths and discourages any wrong health care behavior.
The Tricky challenges
However, before we reached this stage, we faced a challenge in terms of technology as no marketing calls are tracked and we were the first ones who wanted to provide large scale marketing calls that were timed and targeted and also required tracking. We needed to track the unique subscribers enrolled, number of scheduled calls, successful calls and failure calls, percentage of calls heard, number of missed calls to the call centre and system and missed calls responded by call centre executive or system and the number of dropouts. We had to make several tweaks with the help of our technology partners to address this issue and this took us a long time.
The vision of the program is to make the mMitra service a household name so that every pregnant woman enrolls herself to avail this service for a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery. So, our next challenge was: how to get the maximum reach? The beneficiaries do not move out much, especially during pregnancy. Based on this information, the mMitra team decided that a door to door enrollment works the best. We visited many NGOs, marketing agencies, for profit social enterprises to reach the community to come up with the best solution. Based on this experience, mMitra decided to come up with two channels through which the mMitra program can register women. One is the Institutional Channel which involves partnering with Hospitals, Maternity Homes and other health institutions and the other one is the community/NGO vertical that partners with local NGOs to enroll underprivileged women for the mMitra programme in their locality.
Initially, for the NGO vertical, we used to use the Grant Model, which means the partner organization is given an annual financial grant which include salaries for staff and incentive for community volunteers called Sakhis. This model has now been discontinued and did not give us a good reach. Based on our previous learning’s and experiences, we developed a Brand Ambassador Model. This model was the game changer for us with almost all our NGO partners working under this model. Under this model every Sakhi or Brand Ambassador and every organization is paid per registration which includes the data entry cost. We currently have partnered with 7 municipalities, 30 hospitals and 20 NGOs to serve our beneficiaries.
In the past years our mMitra programme has touched the lives of around 2,00,000 beneficiaries and our current target for mMitra is to reach 5 million beneficiaries in the next three years. Apart from areas in and around Mumbai, this year mMitra has already expanded its service across borders of Mumbai in Neral, Ambernath Uran, Thane, Karjat , Palghar, as well as Nashik City and Pune. mMitra is already on the verge of expanding its operations in Delhi, NCR soon.
One of the reasons mMitra is popular with the women is, that the enrollment is done by a woman itself which increases the comfort level and empathy. This goal would not have been achieved if our partners and Sakhis did not believe in the cause. Once, our partner went out of the way to Ulhasnagar to print our brochure and get it ready in time.