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  • 02.18.11

Jordanian Health Program Connects Bedouin Mothers With MDs via Text

In a country where rural women are often illiterate and dependent on their husbands for medical decisions, the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan is breaking tradition and giving women more control over their health–with mobile phones.

Bedouin women

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

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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.'”

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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.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter.

About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.

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