Jordanian Health Program Connects Bedouin Mothers With MDs via Text

Bedouin women

The rural mothers of Jordan now have a direct, immediate line to qualified health care—their mobile phones.

SOHITCOM (Social Health and IT for Rural Communities) is a health initiative that connects rural mothers with competent doctors via mobile phones in an effort to overcome literacy and other social barriers. The service, in development for more than two years and available in five areas, is now gearing up for national expansion.

"We discovered that in rural areas there was no streamlined, organized health care. And with regards to maternal health, the health of the mother actually affects two people—her and her child. So we thought, 'How can technology help fix this gap between rural and urban places?'" team leader Islam Ahmad told Fast Company.

Ahmad says that rural women typically live in Bedouin huts, but they all have mobile phones. Using the SOHITCOM program, a mother can send a text to the designated 9444 government number with her question and choose the relevant category—breast feeding, vaccination, fever, bleeding, or other categories, and a doctor will respond. That answer shows up on a corresponding website for others to view, but more importantly, the answer is sent to the mother in an audio format (to account for possible illiteracy). All of the information is private, between the doctor and her, which is meant to help the mothers feel comfortable sharing information about bleeding or other sensitive information.

"In the countryside, the situation is different from the capital," says Ahmad. "Women in the countryside only get advice from mothers, neighbors, and friends. It's almost forbidden to get outside advice without permission from her husband. But every mother has a mobile. The number of mobiles in Jordan is double the population."

Bedouin women

As part of the SOHITCOM project, which is an initiative of the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) of Jordan, Ahmad and her team have rolled out a parallel vaccination alert campaign, which is tailored to rural Jordanian women.

"When we told mothers that we needed their mobile numbers to send them alerts to get vaccinated, they were so happy because this is a problem they generally face. The fathers usually don't remember and the mothers are usually illiterate. Or she doesn't know about the importance of vaccinations for her child. So sending alerts to mothers from the government is very effective. When a mother receives an SMS from the government, she feels important and special, like 'the government cares for me.'"

Ahmad is even trying to enlist top-ranking doctors who treat Jordan's elite—including the royal family—to help respond to questions from the rural women. That would certainly help bridge the gap between rural and urban places with mobile technology.

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2 Comments

  • jonathan fox

    Great idea but surely being illiterate will make the act of sending a text message quite difficult? If this service is to respond quickly enough then I assume (dangerous) it will be relatively well staffed. On this basis perhaps it would be easier to text for help and then have a phone based conversation with a doctor? This would also minimize the chance of miscommunication with someone who may be illiterate/have a limited vocabulary.

    Still - agree with Louann - this can only be seen as a step forward.