3 hi-tech solutions to lighten a busy mom's burden

15 March 2015 - 02:00
Image: Thinkstock

A personalised cellphone database that helps women through pregnancy and baby's first months has become South Africa's biggest mobile technology innovation.

More than a quarter of a million people have signed up with MomConnect since its launch by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi six months ago.

The program is one of several cutting-edge mobile technology projects that are improving public healthcare in South Africa.

Others include an app for pasteurising donated breast milk and another that helps health workers give eye examinations.

The University of Cape Town has also just finished a trial to determine whether SMS reminders will encourage people with hypertension (high blood pressure) to collect and take their medication.

The results are still out, but funding has already been secured for a similar trial for diabetes in Johannesburg, Cape Town and in Lilongwe, Malawi.


Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila said: "We have more than 250 740 pregnant women registered with MomConnect. But we are hoping more women sign up.

"They receive messages that are tailored to their stage of pregnancy and messages on how to care for the infant after delivery."

The department has also trained 18 536 health workers to administer the app.

Studies show that 90% of South Africans - and 75% of the poor - own cellphones, which makes the country ripe for cellphone projects.

A team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal's department of paediatrics and child health has won an international award for its work on a cellphone system designed to reduce child mortality and undernutrition.


The Android app, FoneAstra, guides health workers through the flash-heat pasteurisation of donated breast milk and connects an Android phone to a probe that measures the temperature of donated milk.

It also helps track donor milk and can be adapted for use where there is no electricity.

The team - which worked in conjunction with health NGO PATH and the University of Washington's department of computer science and engineering - was among four groups from Africa to share the $1-million GlaxoSmithKline and Save the Children Healthcare Innovation Award, for projects that reduce child deaths in developing countries.

Although the app is not available for sale yet, it is being used in four district hospitals in Durban and will be rolled out to five more in KwaZulu-Natal, funded by the prize money.

Professor Anna Coutsoudis, who was instrumental in the app's development, said: "The more access infants have to breast milk the more lives can be saved."


Another South African innovation, the Vula app designed by Stellenbosch University's Dr William Mapham, enables health workers to take a detailed picture of the eye, carry out a basic vision test, and fill in a simple form of patient information, all of which can be sent to specialists.

But the South African Medical Research Council's Dr Natalie Leon said: "We need to treat phone health inventions like any other intervention - it has to prove its worth, be cost-effective and add value.

"We cannot simply step ahead because it is something new and attracts global partners. Using communication technology to improve linkage to care is good, but at the end of the day the quality of the service that they actually get linked to is more important."