For Bangladeshis, accessing health and medical services has always been a daunting task, no less so for pregnant women who are often marginalized and have no knowledge of proper maternal healthcare.
In 2011, Aponjon, a mobile-based healthcare service for marginalized women who could not access health care due to or lack of proper knowledge, was launched to change that situation.
After the project ends in June this year, it will be turned into a venture, said Dnet, the social enterprise that owns and runs Aponjon services in Bangladesh.
Dnet said the project was launched in 2010 with the support of Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), a global alliance for improving maternal and child health through mobile technology. The Aponjon mHealth Service was launched in September 2011.
The service is designed for expecting mothers between sixth and 42nd week of pregnancy and mothers with a child less than one year old.
According to Dnet, some 2.26 million pregnant women, new mothers, and their family members from more than 400 upazilas have directly benefited from its health-related mobile services since they were launched. The network has 5,330 trained community agents under 40 partners. Currently more than 492,000 people are receiving the services.
The Shogorbha mobile app was downloaded 69,613 times and 21,762,000 SMS and 18,538,000 voice calls were delivered till December 2017. Of the calls, 60% lasted more than 40 seconds. Average cost to the user was about Tk10 monthly.
“It was a simple idea, to let marginalized pregnant or new mothers access healthcare with only a mobile phone,” Aponjon Project Director Anannya Rahman said.
“Very few mothers were aware of how proper antenatal care and postnatal care is done. This project has helped mothers and families be more conscious and take proper measures on time.”
“Our subscribers do more doctor visits than before, and there has been a significant shift towards going for the healthcare system rather than depending on a quack,” he added.
“Most of the mothers paid for the services, even though 72% of the families did not earn more than Tk10,000 a month.”
The PD said they are considering if the service range can be expanded to include mothers of up to five-year-old children as well.
After three miscarriages, 29-year-old housewife Doly Akhter from Dhaka’s Mirpur was feeling frightened and depressed.
She was only 17 when she gave birth to her first child. It was a complicated birth.
Few years later she and her husband Shahanur Islam, a bank employee, decided to have another child, but Shahanur had three consecutive miscarriages.
“I did not have the courage to try again. Then from an acquaintance I learned about Brac, who asked me to become a member of Aponjon,” she said.
“Aponjon sends me these regular texts, telling me whenever I need to be cautious, and about increasing calcium and other nutrition supplements, changing food habits.”
Doly gave birth to a healthy girl in late 2016.
Dnet said among its over two million subscribers, there are some 9,000 who found the app by themselves. Bank employee Md Mohasin of Dhaka’s Banasree is one of them.
He and his wife Zannatul Mawa decided to have their baby within a year of their marriage. But incidents of miscarriage and potential pregnancy complications scared them.
Searching online for help, Mohasin came across Aponjon. The Bangla text and interface made the service accessible to him, and trustworthy.
After subscribing, he learned about the duties during pregnancy and he was encouraged to take his wife for a complete checkup. They learned that Zannatul had relatively high blood sugar, which affected her pregnancy after six months.
“The opportunity of contacting doctors over phone has proved a great support. Physicians very often give little time to patients and I felt that we cannot make all of our queries to them,” he said.
“You are making a direct call to the doctor and asking them about every aspect of the pregnancy, and they give you the time you need. A cost of Tk2.31 per minute is nothing compared to this service,” he added.
According to Dnet, since the start of counselling in 2013 till April 2018, their doctors received 10,000 calls.
Mohasin and Zannatul are now parents of a nine-month-old girl, and they are still taking advantage of the services.