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thoughts from the field.

What MAMA taught us.

Last month MAMA came to town. MAMA is the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. As part of the annual MAMA conference, it brought nine mHealth professionals from eight countries to Timor-Leste to learn about the Liga Inan Project.

Liga Inan, implemented by Catalpa International, Health Alliance International and the Ministry of Health, uses mobile phones to connect expectant mothers with health providers in Timor-Leste to improve the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy and birth.

We have to admit that at first, we were a bit skeptical. How much would the MAMA delegates gain from being squished into a very small plane to visit a project that is essentially about health professionals and pregnant women being able to text and call each other?

Luckily, as it turned out, quite a lot.

After enduring a long dusty, bumpy drive to reach a remote health post, delegates were met by the only midwife stationed there who explained how she uses the Liga Inan program to connect with pregnant women in surrounding villages. This experience, along with meeting local women who had participated in Liga Inan and the district health coordinator, gave MAMA delegates a contextual and detailed understanding of Liga Inan. One that is impossible to convey in a powerpoint presentation.

Returning to Dili, the delegates got together to talk all things mHealth, using the Liga Inan program as a launching pad to explore issues of scale, message content, tech design and sustainability.

We’re already using some of the ideas from the conference to make sure that Liga Inan remains an mHealth project that’s worth travelling halfway across the world to visit.

We exchanged ideas and experiences and examined each other’s supporting materials. Those at the earlier stages of developing their projects quizzed others on how to engage the right technology partner. We didn’t take the threats to kidnap our software designers David and Anders seriously.

Other participants with more mature projects dazzled everyone with their sophisticated service packaging and success in scaling-up to reach extraordinary numbers of pregnant women. We were seriously impressed by our colleague from Bangladesh having wrangled agreements with all six national Mobile Network Operators. As we celebrated our first agreement with one MNO, Timor Telecom, this was a gentle reminder that we still have a long way to go.

Learning about other delegate’s mHealth projects in maternal health showed us what can be achieved. It reminded us that we need to be constantly innovating. We’re working on this. We’re already using some of the ideas from the conference to make sure that Liga Inan remains an mHealth project that’s worth travelling halfway across the world to visit.

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By Kate Williams

Kate has a background in law and public health and has worked for government and local and international NGO’s in Australia and overseas with a focus on the rights of vulnerable and marginalised populations. Read more about Kate here