When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, women in the developed world are notorious for hopping in a car and zipping to the hospital at the first signs of labor, but in in the developing world, it’s not always an option. In Rwanda, where hospital access is scarce, a new Rapid SMS service was introduced in August of 2009 to help give people living in remote regions of the country quick access to healthcare. The system, a joint initiative between three United Nations organizations, is being tested in the Musanze District of Rwanda.
Cell phones were given to 432 health workers in the Musanze District who then register pregnant women in their villages through SMS text messages. They can send updates on their conditions to a central server in the capital city of Kigali for monitoring. Those who are thought to be high-risk are brought in for check-ups.
When a woman begins showing signs of labor, the local health worker is told and can send a text to the nearest hospital, which will send an ambulance. Women would typically avoid going to the hospital because of the long trip, which would sometimes end up causing serious complications. In Rwanda, 750 out of every 100,000 pregnant women die every year. The system is already showing signs of improving those odds: According to a hospital director in the Musanze District, they’ve had no deaths since the system launched.