A frontline perspective of the CCPF “Health Center by Phone” Program
When I trained as a midwife, I had no idea that I would be helping deliver babies over the phone. Technology has come a long way, especially in the district of Balaka in Malawi.
In September of this year, Mercy, a 24 year old pregnant woman from Dailesi village in Balaka, told her family that she wasn’t feeling well, and set out for Kalembo Health Center seated on the back of a bicycle driven by her neighbor.
Dailesi village is 12 km away from the nearest health center, and is located in a hilly area far from paved roads. The only transport available is by foot, by bicycle taxi, or–in case of emergency–by ox cart or bicycle ambulance.
After an hour of traveling, Mercy started feeling intense muscle contractions signaling the birth of her baby and could no longer sit on the back of the bicycle. Mercy asked the bicycle driver to stop in a nearby village so that the women living there could help her deliver her baby.
With no other transport available, still far from the health center, and without any skilled personnel nearby to help with Mercy’s delivery, her neighbor decided to call Chipatala cha pa Foni for assistance.
Chipatala cha pa Foni (CCPF), which translates to “health center by phone,” is a toll-free hotline that women in rural Malawi can call to speak directly with a hotline worker for information on pregnancy, newborn and child health, and reproductive health issues such as family planning. A VillageReach project, CCPF provides clients with advice they can follow at home, or refers them to a health center or hospital if they’re displaying “danger signs” which require further care. Women in the community can also sign up for CCPF’s “Tips and Reminders” mobile messaging service to receive regular text or voice messages tailored to their week of pregnancy or their child’s age.
Besides information and referrals, CCPF has also linked key services to the community, as in the case of transport. After visiting the CCPF Hotline Room, the Balaka District Transport Officer was so impressed with the potential of CCPF to save lives that he offered to assist in arranging transport logistics for callers in critical condition or in need of immediate care. He gave us his telephone number and requested that we let him know of any emergency transport needs.
Less than one week later, we took him up on his offer when Mercy called the hotline.
Rose Nkupsya, a nurse and CCPF hotline worker, answered the call from Mercy. Rose understood the urgency of the situation and informed the transport officer. He immediately responded by sending the district ambulance to pick up Mercy and bring her to the nearest health facility.
Before the ambulance could reach her, Mercy delivered a baby boy. Mercy was bleeding heavily when the ambulance arrived and needed to be helped by health workers. But she was afraid of being reprimanded by them for delivering her baby outside of a facility and was concerned that the nurses would not admit her. Over the phone, Rose reassured her, and Mercy agreed to go to the health center where the nurse on duty was able to stabilize her condition and successfully stop the bleeding. Had it not been for CCPF and the transport officer, Mercy would have suffered severe bleeding and infection. Fortunately, she and her baby boy received timely and appropriate care, and both are happy and healthy today.
Chipatala cha pa Foni provides an important service to women in four districts of Malawi, but our work is far from finished. I look forward to continuing to help women have safe pregnancies and deliveries and for children to grow up happy and healthy.Read full story
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Rose is a Group Village Head in central Malawi and is responsible for overseeing the well-being of a community of a 32-village community. She has long been concerned with the challenges women and children face in her community when trying to access health information and services. Women and children in Rose’s villages, and in Malawi as a whole, experience high rates of maternal and child mortality as a result of limited health care and lack of reliable information on safe motherhood and child health practices.
Today, women and children in Rose’s community are getting help from Chipatala cha pa Foni (health center hotline, in English), a toll-free maternal and health hotline that provides health information, advice and referrals. Service users also have the option of signing up for weekly voice or text messages to receive health tips & reminders to access preventive health care services. Village volunteers help women understand and use the service and ensure access for those without cellphones through project phones.
Chipatala cha pa Foni effectively extends the reach of the health system, allowing women and children to access health services from their home without having to travel long distances to the nearest health center. As a mother, grandmother and community leader, Rose has been a strong advocate for use of the Chipatala cha pa Foni in her community. Rose encourages those who have cell phones to lend them to those who cannot afford one, and has even contributed her own phone to those who don’t own phones. As a result, the Chipatala cha pa Foni program has had a vast reach into the community, receiving over 11,000 calls and registering nearly 6,000 women and caregivers of young children for the tips and reminders service.
Since 2000, VillageReach has worked to improve the performance of health systems, serving more than 10 million people in remote communities across sub-Saharan Africa.Read full story