When I was pregnant, my cell phone didn’t come in a case with a shoulder strap, but it was 2002 so it might as well have. I could carry my cell phone in my pocket, but I didn’t do much with it other than turn it off so I could live in a temporary call-free bubble. I never was one of those girls who talked endlessly on the phone. Plus I used to run the Ohio AIDS Hotline and after five years of that emotional rollercoaster, I hope you’ll understand if I don’t always answer when a song fragment requests my attention.
Instead, I’m 40 years old and I text with the speed and frequency of a pre-teen. Given my love of texting, public health experience and mom-ness, the recently launched maternal and child health program text4baby got my uninterrupted attention when I read about it in the May 3rd issue of TIME Magazine (the actual off-line magazine I read to spare my hands and eyes from the daily impact of being wired).
Did you know that the rate of infant mortality in the U.S. rate is higher than 40 other nations? Or that the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth in the U.S. is four times as great as in Germany and three times as great as in Spain? (See Amnesty International’s 2010 report “Deadly Delivery” .)
In an effort to reduce U.S. infant mortality and improve the health of women and children, the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) has launched the first free mobile health service in the US: Text4baby, an educational program made possible through a public-private partnership that includes more than 100 sponsors and participants.
By texting the keyword BABY or BEBE (for Spanish-language texts) to 511411, women receive three free texts each week. Messages are in sync with baby’s due date or date of birth and provide knowledge about fetal and childhood development. The texts focus on critical aspects of maternal, fetal and infant health: seeing a doctor early in pregnancy, nutrition, seasonal flu prevention and treatment, mental health issues, risks of tobacco use, oral health, immunization schedules, and safe sleep. Text4baby messages also connect women to public clinics and support services for prenatal and infant care.
Many U.S. government agencies, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy, are involved in the design, outreach, and evaluation of text4baby. Johnson & Johnson is the Founding Sponsor and Premier Sponsors include WellPoint and Pfizer. The mobile health platform is provided by Voxiva and free messaging services are provided by participating wireless service providers.
In the U.S., an estimated 90 percent of adults have a cell phone (that’s usually on) and the average American spends about two hours a day on the Internet. Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration’s Chief Technology Officer, hopes technology may help solve this urgent health problem. “The ultimate goal is to make sure that we reduce infant mortality—that we increase the health of the children and the mothers through pregnancy. But from a technology standpoint, we’re also trying to understand, ‘Is this a better methodology of communicating and outreach? Does this model work in the delivery of education?’”
It is too soon to answer Chopra’s question about the effectiveness of this methodology to deliver behavior-changing education, but I think we can say with some confidence that women are receptive to the idea of getting connected for baby: since its launch in February, text4baby has enrolled more than 30,000 users.