How a $30 Cellphone Could Help Save a Mother's Life

John Lister's picture

A new project aims to use cellphones to give pregnant women in developing countries a lifeline. It's designed to tackle a problem of a reported 300,000 women each year dying during pregnancy or childbirth.

The Zero Mothers Die project aims to use the cellphones in two ways. The first is as a way to send text and voice messages during the pregnancy, giving health information and tips. That's something that could be vital for women who don't have access to regular medical attention or the ability to read health advice online.

The second part of the plan is that the phones will come with preloaded credit allowing the mothers-to-be to call a local health worker for advice or assistance if they suffer a health problem or emergency. The relevant numbers will be pre-programmed into the phones.

The phones will include voice-enabled functions so they can be used even by women who can't read. The handsets are bright pink with a "Mum's Phone" logo. That's not intended as a sexist branding exercise, but rather as a way to deter them being stolen and sold on.

Mobile Coverage Not A Problem

Although we may think of cellphones as a technology of the developed world, mobile coverage is already widespread: the International Telecommunications Union estimates that 96 percent of people in the world live somewhere that gets some form of signal. (Source:

Indeed, in places such as Africa, the cellphone network is already widely used by health professionals. The problem is that the costs of even a basic handset and calls are well beyond the poorest people.

The Zero Mothers Die project is now running a crowd-sourcing campaign that allows people to donate money to be spent in a specific way. $30 will buy a "Mum's Phone" for one pregnant woman. $50 will cover the phone and all calls to health workers and healthcare centers for the duration of the pregnancy. $80 will add in a solar panel charger to guarantee the phone will always work.

Africa The First Target For Distributing Handsets

The project is running through the Indiegogo site on a flexible funding basis. That means each individual donation isn't dependent on the project raising a certain amount of money. (Source:

To make sure the plan works as efficiently as possible, the organizers of the project plan to work with national governments and mobile network operators. It will initially run in Ghana where a mobile carrier has donated 675,000 minutes that can be used for emergency services calls, with Mali and Zambia the next targets.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think that this project is an efficient way to boost women's health in developing countries? Could the money be better spent elsewhere? Do you think this is a smart use of technology?

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