Voxiva, a Washington DC-based mobile technology firm, has launched a government-sponsored program that uses standard text messaging to educate and encourage healthy habits in pregnant women.
The “Text4baby” program sends tips to expectant mothers who sign up using their cell phones. To participate, women text the word, “baby” (or “bebe” for Spanish speakers) to the number 511411.
Enrollees receive 3 text messages per week, timed to correspond with the woman’s delivery date. The messages cover nutrition, health maintenance and pregnancy management.
The service is entirely free to end-users thanks to government subsidies and the largesse of the wireless carriers. Launched last month, the service had 6,500 sign-ups in the first day. Before this program, Voxiva offered similar text-based services in the US, but they were not free.
Voxiva has launched more than 150 mobile health campaigns in Africa, India and Latin America, areas characterized by developing economies and/or a scarce supply of physicians. These projects are usually underwritten by governments or pharmaceutical firms. They provide news and treatment tips for people with AIDS, obesity, diabetes and smoking.
One of main goals of Text4baby is to discourage alcohol and tobacco use, habits that increase the risk of premature birth. In the US, one out of 8 babies, or about 500,000 births per year, is born prematurely each year.
Despite the buzz about health-related apps for the iPhone and other smart phones, text messages are ideal for reaching Text4baby’s most important target group, which includes women that can’t afford smart phones. About 90% of US adults carry a cell phone, and nearly all of them support text messaging.