The award-winning power of Mobile for Reproductive Health
By Trinity Zan, FHI 360 Technical Officer
FHI 360’s Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4RH) project has been nominated for a prestigious 2013 Katerva Award, which recognizes “the most promising ideas and efforts to advance the planet toward sustainability.” This nomination adds to the considerable recognition that this innovative mHealth information service has already received. In June of this year, m4RH was one of ten recipients of the first African Development Bank eHealth Awards. Just a year earlier, Women Deliver 50! selected m4RH as one of the top 10 innovative technology programs supporting women and girls.
The Katerva Award nomination highlights m4RH’s innovative packaging of reproductive health information and behavior change components in a single mobile phone technology. Using mobile phones, m4RH disseminates family planning information to the general public, as well as information on the nearest clinic that offers these services. One of the few text-messaging services globally that provides family planning information as a means of education and behavior change communication, m4RH has revolutionized the concept of informed choice in the provision of family planning information. With m4RH, any person with a mobile phone can access standardized, essential and comprehensive information in simple language. One user said, “m4RH is using terms you can understand, it has clear knowledge on what you want to know. It is simple to understand, simple language that everyone can understand.” Given that more than 85 percent of global citizens have mobile connectivity, the potential impact of this simple service is truly exciting.
Based on research that FHI 360 conducted through the Program Research for Strengthening Services (PROGRESS) project, we already have good reason to believe in the transformative power of m4RH. Among m4RH users who responded to survey questions, more than 40 percent were men and the majority were under age 30. Our data also show that m4RH has been used by people in 127 out of 129 districts in Tanzania — astounding results. Reaching men, youth, and rural and urban dwellers is vital to significantly increase use of family planning. Furthermore, m4RH users highlighted benefits for couples communication, which also is critical to ensuring continuous, correct family planning use. One 23-year-old male m4RH user in Tanzania told us, “m4RH … has managed to make me and my wife to sit down and discuss family planning issues.”
With m4RH available in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, we are making great strides to scale up and identify the best mechanisms to ensure its viability beyond donor funding. Through Innovation Working Group Catalytic funding from the UN Foundation, in partnership with the mHealth Alliance and Norad, we will explore multiple pathways to scale, including public–private partnerships and innovative business models. Recognition from the Katerva Awards would be a great honor and support putting contraceptive information and decision making directly into the hands of hundreds of thousands of African women and men.