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07/05/2013

Cellphones helping Afghanistan improve world's worst infant mortality rates

Screen shot 2013-07-05 at 8.33.40 AM
Afghan women walking in Kabul (Reuters)

Cellphones have been a game changing technology in the developing world.

Throughout South Asia, fishermen have used cells while still out at sea to determine which port will offer the highest prices for their daily catch. And in India's rural countryside, cellphones are cutting down on corruption.

Now, World Vision and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are making a bet that cellphones can also help cut maternal and infant mortality rates.

World Vision recently conducted a pilot project in Afghanistan where parents are sent text messages in their local language throughout a pregnancy and during the first year of their baby's life. "A complimentary service enables community health workers to use mobile phones to enter information about the patients they have seen and the services they have delivered, increasing efficiency and accuracy," Lisa Bos reports on the Impatient Optimists website.

World Vision says the pilot was successful and that 22 per cent more women delivered babies at health facilities and 20 per cent more women received prenatal care.

It's hard to imagine a country where programs like this are needed more. Afghanistan's infant mortality rate is the worst in the world, according to U.N. stats, worse than Niger, Mali and Somalia. But there are signs of improvement. During 2012, the country recorded about 122 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to U.N. data, down from about 165 in 2004.

The non-profit is looking to replicate the program in other developing countries.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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