Maternal health apps should be family inclusive – but hardly any are

mobile app

A recent review of mobile maternal health apps presents five services, none of which are family inclusive.

  • GiftedMom operates in Cameroon and Nigeria and is followed by about 7000 mothers.
  • Zero Mothers Die provides small mobile phones to women in Ghana, Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, and Zambia at no cost.
  • maymay in Myanmar is a fee app that sends out three tailored health alerts every week to pregnant women, providing tips on having a successful, healthy pregnancy
  • MAMA delivers free health messages to new and expectant mothers in Bangladesh, South Africa, India and Nigeria.
  • Safe Pregnancy and Birth provides maternal health knowledge to expectant mothers and health care providers.

No-one could argue that mothers do not need these services and we have argued in other articles that a mother’s access to maternal health services must never be conditional on participation by other members of her family – this practice has been tried in HIV testing campaigns that are targeting men, but it is fundamentally unfair, and disadvantages vulnerable women in particular.

But targeting information only at mothers ignores a huge body of research, as we are presenting here on Family Included, showing that well-informed families improve health outcomes. But is also carries an underlying message: that mothers alone are responsible for caring. This is one of the foundations of a patriarchal society.

Backed by money from developed countries, this situation demonstrates the global nature of the failure to understand family inclusive care and the global nature of gender inequalities.

The mothers in the antenatal clinic at Bwari hospital during a visit by the Family Included team in March 2016, pleaded with the hospital to engage directly with their husbands and families in order to communicate essential messages about health – particularly messages that involve increased expense for a poor family, such as a different diet for the pregnant woman. As one woman said, if the woman is made to do it, her husband can just think she is “being demanding”.

We have reviewed research on m-health in maternal health. Research contradicts the approach adopted by the apps presented above: the simple provision of information is a limited vision. Effective m-health programmes combine good information with interactivity, support with problem solving and the building of social support – links with family, peers and health workers.

“Mobile technologies offer the opportunity to support families directly in managing their own health, while linking their self-management efforts to healthcare providers and other resources” (Rotheram-Borus et al. 2012).


Photo: Creative Commons.