The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) is a mobile phone health initiative partnership led by USAID and Johnson & Johnson, with support from BabyCenter, mHealth Alliance and the United Nations Foundation. Recently, members of the MAMA partnership conducted a series of site visits in Bangladesh. This blog post comes from MAMA Global Partnership Director, Kirsten Gagnaire, and is part of their blog tour series reporting on the site visits and experience in Bangladesh. JNJBTW is happy to host one of the blog posts on that tour.
From Kirsten Gagnaire, MAMA Global Partnership Director
Pregnancy, birth and infancy. These are some of the most important phases in life. In many cultures across the globe, decisions about how this critical time is addressed in daily life are guided by partners, mothers, fathers, mothers-in-law and other important community figures. These decision-making figures are often referred to as “gatekeepers” and have an important role in the pregnancy of someone for whom they are responsible.
An expecting mother in a developing country needs the same things as expecting mothers in any other part of the world. She needs more rest and she may need to be relieved of some of her duties, like hauling water and cooking over a smoky stove. She may need money for transportation to get to the clinic for her antenatal checkups. In some areas, it is a local tradition that women give birth at home without medical care. There may be a local belief that babies should be given water and solid foods in early months. In Bangladesh, as in so many other countries across the globe, the new or expectant mom may not be the one that has the authority to make these decisions.
Aponjon, which means “trusted friend” in Bengali, is a service developed by the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) partners in Bangladesh. It focuses on providing moms with messages via mobile phones that share information on how to care for themselves and their babies throughout pregnancy and the first year of life. A unique aspect of Aponjon is that it has a service targeted specifically for gatekeepers, as they make decisions about the family’s care and finances. Gatekeepers in Bangladesh are often partners, mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters and other figures in the community. The Aponjon messages for gatekeepers reinforce the messages the women receive through the mom-focused service, but emphasize the critical role they play in ensuring that pregnancy, birth and early childhood are healthy and happy experiences for their families.
While on a recent trip to Bangladesh, I was privileged to be invited into several homes - both rural and urban - where I talked with a spectrum of gatekeepers. One grandmother in the slums of Dhaka was worried that her 19-year-old daughter wouldn’t know enough about how to raise a child, so she signed up for the service. As she rocked her new grandchild in her arms, she smiled and told us how she felt when she received these messages. “Getting the messages for my daughter brought back memories when I was a new mom and just learning how to take care of my own child.”
During our site visits, many fathers recounted stories of making different decisions about what foods to buy, based on what was recommended by Aponjon for optimal nutrition for their wives and babies. A sister of one young mother said that receiving the messages helped her to better prepare to help her sister plan for and give birth safely.
Giving and sustaining life really does take a village. Aponjon recognizes this and has designed a service that meets the needs of not just moms, but also the gatekeepers who support them.
To learn more about MAMA, visit http://www.mobilemamaalliance.org/.
To read more posts from the blog tour series, please visit: