Mum’s the Message

A Mumbai doctor’s healthcare initiative delivers free health advice to patients’ mobile phones.
Dr Aparna Hegde with an mMitra subscriber and children in Mumbai
Dr Aparna Hegde with an mMitra subscriber and children in Mumbai

One day, a patient called Rupa arrived in labour convulsing with severe hypertension,” recalls Dr Aparna Hegde, a renowned Mumbai-based urogynaecologist. “When I opened her medical records, I was stunned to see my own handwriting. I had seen Rupa in her third month of pregnancy, but the overcrowded hospital didn’t allow enough time for counselling on danger signs and regular care. I was consumed by guilt: if only I had counselled her, she would have had a healthy pregnancy and delivery,” recalls Hegde. Today, through her healthcare initiative, ARMMAN, she avoids a repeat of her past mistakes. Hegde uses the simple mobile phone to dispense valuable health advice to expectant moms through recorded voice call services in six languages, and a pan-India helpline.

Early in her medical training, Hegde realised that hospital-based solutions were not adequate. Every woman and child should be able to access these solutions from their homes. “I saw a pregnant tribal woman using a mobile phone in rural Karnataka and it struck me that mobile health is an exciting solution. And thus ARMMAN was born in 2008,” Hegde recalls. In Hindi, ARMMAN—an acronym for Advancing Reduction in Mortality and Morbidity of Mothers, Children and Neonates—means ‘wish’. Today, ARMMAN is implementing the largest mobile-based maternal messaging programme called Kilkari (a baby’s gurgle in Hindi) in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It has reached 24.6 million women across 17 states and has 1.5 million active users.

Kilkari uses IVR technology to deliver audio information directly to families’ mobile phones. Calls cover the critical time period during which most deaths occur from the second trimester of pregnancy until the child is one-year-old. Subscribers receive one pre-recorded call per week, linked to the woman’s stage of pregnancy or the child’s age.

On the same lines is mMitra, which sends free critical preventive care information weekly/twice a week to mobile phones of women during pregnancy and infancy. From advice about why she needs to take folic acid to what could be the symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease, it covers it all.

Women can choose the time slot and language to get the information. “Programmes implemented by ARMMAN have reached over 27 million women and their children, and trained 2,29,000 health workers,” says Hegde, the Founder-Managing Trustee of ARMMAN. “Five years from today, we are looking at touching 45 million women and their children and training one million health workers,” says Hegde. Lofty goals, indeed.

ARMMAN’s Virtual OPD
✥ Over 26,600 women have had free consultations since the service began in April 2020
✥ Pregnant women and mothers of children under the age of five can call toll-free number (1-800-212-1425) to reach obstetricians/paediatricians
✥ The Virtual OPD is now also accessible via WhatsApp on +91 9004141452

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The New Indian Express