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Deguène Fall, Senegal

Health Huts are saving lives in rural Senegal


With years of experience as a midwife under her belt, Deguène Fall is now helping expectant mothers in Senegal in a different way. She is part of a project providing vital support to rural populations through Health Huts – the furthest outposts of health services offering maternal and antenatal services, malaria treatment, nutritional support and immunisation.

In total, 331 health huts were set up, with Fall responsible for 68 of them in the Thiès area. By providing essential services, the huts have helped cut rates of diarrhoea in children aged under 5 from 33 per cent to almost one per cent. They have also ensured that over 90 per cent of children are now receiving immunisation, compared to only 53 per cent five years ago.

As Fall says, the project has been invaluable for women who have previously had difficulty in accessing health clinics, either financially or geographically. One of the most innovative aspects has been a pilot project using text messaging to remind women of upcoming doctor’s appointments before, during and after pregnancy, to remind them of vital immunisations for their babies and to invite them to different health talks at the Mbosse health clinic.

The sound of a text message, recognisable the world over, but in a small village tucked away down the sandy back-roads of Senegal, a few short beeps can be vital reminders. For mothers living in and around the Mbosse, receiving an SMS (cellphone small message service, text) from their doctor helps keep themselves, and their babies, alive and healthy

Fall says that, before the cell phone project started, women only learned about health matters through discussions. But many felt there was too much talking and got bored. Fall says, when they came for their pre-natal consultations, doctors would write their next appointment down, but most of these women are illiterate. Even with immunisations, they would forget because they were out working in the field or too busy helping in the house. But now that they receive direct messages they do not usually forget, according to Fall.

Fatou Tine is a 25-year-old mother of four who can vouch for the success of the project. She joined the text message program a year ago during her last pregnancy, but continues to attend meetings on other health topics, such as diarrhea, malaria prevention, HIV and family planning. Both she and her husband are illiterate.

Health-care workers at the Mbosse clinic estimate about 95 per cent of the women who receive texts do show up for their appointments. And, many also join in the regular health meetings, bringing their friends or husbands along.

The work that Fall oversees is doing wonders to improve the health of mothers and their children in rural Senegal.

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