Our network of health-care providers supported nearly 1,800 women!
1,741 women signed up to receive supportive text messages on medical abortion from trained healthcare providers after initiating services in a clinic. An additional 1,248 signed up to receive informative text messages on contraception and medical abortion.
Estimated girls & women affected
2,989 women received SMS messages about medical abortion, and 92,551 people accessed the sexual and reproductive health topics (10,341 accessed information on abortion specifically) on the mobi-site during the project period.
Estimated community members affected
Thanks to your support, Ipas helped thousands of South African women realize their reproductive rights and live healthier sexual lives. The project’s success is the result of collaboration with youth, youth leaders, health-care providers, provincial officials, and a local partner specializing in mobile technologies. Nearly 3,000 South African women accessed medical abortion information through SMS messages, and more than 92,000 people accessed sexual and reproductive health information on their mobile phones through the Ipas mobi-site. This figure includes 10,000 people from 18 other countries, many in sub-Saharan Africa. Thirty-one youth and youth leaders participated in the official launch event at a North West province youth center. Throughout the project period, this group worked to engage women and youth visiting the youth center who were interested in signing up for the SMS messages, while encouraging them to access the mobi-site.
Prior to the launch, the SMS messages were tested for clarity and understanding by recipients. Our network of health-care providers supported nearly 1,800 women who signed up to receive supportive text messages on medical abortion after initiating services in a clinic. During six trainings, Ipas trained providers from 23 facilities in four different provinces to support medical abortion clients. Project partners also helped to distribute 23,500 leaflets and 400 posters that advertised the SMS messages as well as the mobi-site.
We conducted an evaluation with 67 women who signed up for the SMS messages. One young woman said, “I did not feel so alone even if it was an SMS, encouraging, comforting, SMS is not judgmental.” Another said, “I didn't need any friend because the SMSs were there for me. They really helped me.” A provider said, “These SMSs have an advantage because if she has a problem she is able to get information more easily. These SMSs also remind them about the things we talk about in the counseling room.”
Risks and challenges
Since close partnership with the provinces is integral to the project’s success, the project was delayed initially due to numerous demands faced by the provincial officials. We are pleased that we were able to negotiate timelines and complete the project despite these conflicts.
What we’ve learned
This project underscores the importance of working closely with health-care providers. Their commitment was essential to informing women about the SMS messaging service. The providers participating in the mHealth project also established a share group using the digital platform Whatsapp, allowing providers in all four provinces to share information, updates, and support one another. They agreed that the SMS service can be useful for other health services as well. We also learned that the mobi-site can serve as a very useful quick reference tool for a variety of stakeholders.
Ipas’s office in South Africa is closing its doors. However, we hope that the providers will continue to implement their mHealth activities and expand on their interest to include content on other reproductive health services. Ipas is continuing its global mHealth efforts to expand our reach and provide critical sexual and reproductive health care to women and girls in the many countries we serve. See www.ipas.org for more details!
Amount spent so far
Small grant to local partner
Planning meetings for expansion
Staff travel to implement project in other provinces
Printing of posters informing women of SMS messages
Ipas held our first meetings with officials in the North West province and contacted the youth center that will serve as a hub of the project in the North West. The geographical coverage will expand beyond the North West province to cover the Free State province as well and health-care providers will assist with sign up and support. We also identified and oriented a consultant on responsibilities for engaging women and youth visiting the youth center. We developed a management and monitoring plan to guide and track the project.
Additionally, we sourced a mobile health solution provider and requested a quotation for sending out the SMS messages. We have developed first draft messages, which will be finalized once they have been tested for clarity and understanding by recipients. We are also finalizing the printing of posters that invite women to sign up for the SMS messages. The project was launched officially in North West during the last week of September 2013 through a talk show with the theme “Our Health, Our Rights.”
A total of 31 youth and youth leaders were reached directly at this event, some of whom are shown in the attached photos. Participants will work with the consultant to engage young women interested in signing up for the SMS messages.
Risks and challenges
For this project we are working closely with provincial officials; provinces have numerous priorities they must balance and as a result we had to delay the start of the project.
A youth leader who attended the September launch in the North West province said, “Young people are showing a lot of interest on signing up for SMSs; most of us applaud the confidentiality.”
In the coming months, we will launch the project in the second province – Free State – to reach more women with informational SMS messages and expand their knowledge of reproductive health options. We will test the draft SMS messages and distribute the posters through our partners in both provinces.
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Help us reach thousands more South African women via SMS to teach them vital information about reproductive health.
Why we care: Lamp-post ads by unscrupulous providers promising “pain free, same day” abortion are on the rise.
How we’re solving this: Since 2012, Ipas has worked with a local NGO partner specializing in mobile communication technologies to make information about medical abortion—pills, not surgery—available to more women.
South Africa has the most liberal abortion law in Africa, yet many women are denied access to safe abortion services because of lack of awareness of the law, poverty, stigma and other barriers. Women with unplanned pregnancies—especially young women—often have no recourse other than continuing an unwanted pregnancy or turning to unsafe providers or methods.
Taking advantage of the number of cellphones and popularity of SMS text messaging in South Africa, the Ipas mobile health project offers women free, informational SMS messages about medical abortion (MTOP, medical termination of pregnancy). The women sign up to participate at their local health facility. The SMS messages remind them when to take the next dose of pills, explain symptoms and warning signs, and remind them to get follow-up care.
In addition, our initiative features a “mobi-site” that makes sexual and reproductive health information—including information about contraception—available to mobile phone users. This site uses an app that works on most phones in South Africa. Hits on the mobi-site since it went live on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2012 are nearing 500,000.
The project is now operating in one province and, with your help, can be extended into two more. We will launch and promote this project in two provinces through printed posters inviting women to sign up for informational SMS messages. We can help thousands more South African women realize their reproductive rights and live healthier sexual lives.
Sample SMS messages:
“Hello! Today is the day that you must take the 4 pills you were given at the clinic.”
“Just checking in:) If you haven’t taken the pills at home yet, do it straight away. It’s NOT safe to miss the pills u were given to take at home.”