Friday, 2 June 2017

Empowering midwives with INFOBIDAN

By Cory Rogers, Communication Officer

Two midwives demonstrate how to access the information held on the INFOBIDAN website. © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

East Java: “With INFOBIDAN, we have the proof at our fingertips!” hollers Sri Utami, a village-based midwife in eastern Java, just making herself heard above the noise.

Steps away, seven women lead a boisterous chant – “INFOBIDAN, yes! INFOBIDAN yes!” – hoping to have already convinced the 100 midwives who have gathered to sign up for the new mobile application.

INFOBIDAN is an mHealth technology launched in 2012 by UNICEF and the Government of Indonesia to empower midwives; it aims to leverage Indonesia’s growing rates of smartphone penetration to keep them informed on the best ways to protect infant health from birth through the all-important first 1000 days, when neurons form new connections at up to 1000 per second, a pace never repeated again in life.

Ensuring health and nutrition among children is never more important than at this early stage, as sound physical health is a precondition for optimal brain development. By targeting Indonesian midwives, INFOBIDAN empowers those who play a decisive role in making sure children reach their potential.

“Indonesia’s 100,000 or so midwives are on the frontlines of infant healthcare and support to early childhood development; they’re on call 24-hours-a-day and in charge of the health posts where thousands of babies come to be weighed, examined and monitored each month,” explains Rizky Syafitri, UNICEF Communication for Development Specialist. “Now, thanks to INFOBIDAN, critical information from breastfeeding to immunization to combatting diarrhoea can instantly be shared with the new mothers.”

A mother prepares her newborn son to be weighed at a local health post in Ngawi, East Java. © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017

“In Indonesia’s healthcare system, midwives are the indispensable link between children and health,” Rizky said. “But for many midwives, especially those working in rural and remote areas, it may be difficult to recall critical information on health care for pregnant women, infants and young children, because they lack the opportunity of receiving refresher training.”

“That is the information gap that INFOBIDAN strives to address,” Rizky adds.

Through INFOBIDAN, UNICEF and its partners send regular SMS messages and maintain an online, mobile-friendly resource centre to ensure midwives’ knowledge is kept active and up-to-date. Both the SMS messages and the microsite derive from Facts for Life, a publication developed by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other UN partners containing basic information on child health. So far results have been promising.

According to Sri, who joined INFOBIDAN last December, such easy access has made a huge impact on her ability to serve mothers and their young children.
“Before, it could be difficult for mothers to listen to our advice. Now with the app we can show them that our advice comes from the Government and UNICEF, which makes it easier for mothers to believe what we tell them,” she explains.

Wiyati, another area midwife, says INFOBIDAN has helped change attitudes around breastfeeding.

“Now, working mothers understand that they can pump breastmilk to be used later for their babies, and how important it is to avoid formula milk particularly during the first six months. That is really important, because we know breastmilk helps protect babies from allergies,” Wiyati says.

Wiyati is one of two midwives recently trained by UNICEF. In five short months, in this corner of East Java she managed to recruit some 300 midwives to sign up with INFOBIDAN, raising hopes that the app might spread organically through formal and informal midwifery networks via strategic investments.

In all, some 20,000 midwives have signed up with INFOBIDAN since the pilot’s launch, and the hope is that the Government and UNICEF can grow the user base many times over by expanding it across the archipelago in coming years. Sri has no doubt all midwifes will benefit from the tool.

Children receive help from midwives, to wash their hands before a meal in Ngawi, East Java. © Cory Rogers / UNICEF / 2017 

“Before, we mainly used counselling and pamphlets, which often ran out. And parents didn’t always trust them,” Sri says.

“Now we can open our phones and immediately show mothers where we get our information from,” she adds. “That makes a big difference.”