PMNCH Partners' Forum: From Pledges to Action

Innovation Showcase

Short Message Service - MNCH info on the go

Short message service

The need

Lack of access to appropriate sexual health knowledge and services contributes to unintended early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STI) and the spread of HIV. Socio-cultural and religious guidelines define such access in many countries, and are reflected in government policies, such as family planning. Despite this, many young people are sexually active. Friends, pornographic movies or books as main sources of information1 can encourage unhelpful beliefs and behaviour.

People need access to information and knowledge that is confidential, easily and quickly available and non-judgemental. This will enable them to take the right decisions about their health and the care they need.

The innovation

An interactive, web-based sexual health platform (Love Airways) and a condom manufacturer (DMK), in Indonesia joined hands to offer a choice of different methods through which young people can access information. One of them is the short message service (SMS Sex Education) on mobile phones. Young people send questions and receive responses as short messages from “Dr Love” – which are timely and helpful. A database of 20 000 questions have been keyed in to generate responses from an “Avatar” - an artificially intelligent virtual character. This ensures privacy and confidentiality.

Has it helped?

SMS has been a successful in delivering information, due to its low cost, mobility, instant delivery and two-way communication. In Amsterdam, sexual health workers used SMS to contact hard-to-reach commercial sex workers, and were successful in encouraging them to attend sexual health services.2 Through the Grab a Condom SMS in UK, people request for condoms that are delivered to their home in an unmarked package. This helps with confidentiality and overcoming embarrassment or inability to purchase them in a store.3 The Text4baby service in USA, of which Johnson & Johnson is a founding partner, provides health information through SMS to pregnant women and mothers till the baby is a year old.4 SMS has also been used to remind women about daily contraception, spread awareness of STIs, HIV prevention and so on.

1 Purdy CH. “Fruity, Fun and Safe: Creating a Youth Condom Brand in Indonesia,” Reproductive Health Matters. 2006; 14(28): 127-134.
2 van den Oever, van Mens L (2006).The Combined Use of Internet and SMS Targeting Hard to Reach Sex Workers Working as Escorts Abstract. AIDS 2006 – XVI
3 Lim et al (2008) “SMS STI: a review of the uses of mobile phone text messaging in sexual health,” International Journal of STD & AIDS 19: 287-290
4 Johnson TD (2010) “Text4baby educating new moms via text messaging: New, free text service offers maternal, child health information” The Nation's Health April 2010 vol. 40 no. 3