Diffusing good health practices to the general public is a big challenge when fighting pandemics and malnutrition, or when promoting family planning. The international NGO Gret, which is specialized in the fight against poverty and inequality around the world, is helping to meet that challenge. In Burkina Faso, it has set up a system to facilitate family access to health information using technology to which almost everyone has access: text messaging.
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A telephone can save lives. This is the experience that Gret has been successfully carrying out in Burkina Faso since 2016 thanks to a new text-messaging alert system aimed at tackling a problem that afflicts the whole of West Africa. Burkina Faso suffers one of the highest rates of malnutrition and infant mortality in the world. About 27% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition and nearly 9% die before they reach the age of five. The causes are a diet unsuitable for young children, poor hygiene, and availing of health care too late.
To improve nutritional and health practices in families, Gret had the idea of launching a new type of information and awareness campaign. The goal was to bypass the cost and time constraints of traditional campaigns carried out in villages by community health workers. It also involved taking advantage of the widespread use of mobile phones in Burkina Faso, which are presently used by 90% of the population, including 75% of women.
AlloLaafia (“Hello health” in Mooré) is a service that allows families to receive personalized advice via text messaging on three health topics: family planning, pregnancy monitoring, and food for infants and young children. “These messages, available in French, Goulmancema, and Mooré, are personalized according to the beneficiary’s gender, the child’s age, and the stage of pregnancy,” explains Gret.
Not just for Mothers
This project has received financial support from Agence Française de Développement (AFD). “These messages encourage people to take appointments at health centers when necessary. Patients are therefore better monitored,” says Gwenael Prié, team leader of AFD’s Digital Technology project. “This tool also enables people to read health advice in a more intimate setting. It also allows close relations, children, grandmothers, and husbands to have access to information.”
In fact, these campaigns target not only women. Their husbands can also subscribe to the service to receive personalized advice. And its success among the male population can clearly be seen by the fact that more than 40% of the 26,500 subscribers are men!
As one subscriber reports: “The messages contain very useful practical advice. I followed the advice not to give my daughter water before she was six months old. I had given water to my other children, who often became sick, but my daughter has never become sick. My husband also subscribes to AlloLaafia. I also send some messages to my neighbor who has a three-month-old child.”
A 96% confidence rate
More than 2 million messages have been sent since the service was launched. Today, 96% of subscribers report having confidence in the advice, and 72% report applying it. According to Gret, the children of the subscribed families were weighed twice as often as the children of non-subscribers. At the same time, workers from nearby health centers observed a greater male presence during perinatal consultations.
Now, the project has been given new objectives. Many parents have asked not only for nutritional advice, but also for information on agricultural practices. That’s why Gret is preparing to launch a new campaign on a wider range of topics.
In the meantime in Burkina Faso, the phone will likely save even more lives.