Malawi is poised to become the first country in Africa to run a national nutrition hotline, if plans to expand Health Centre by Phone to all districts succeeds.
The original concept of Health Centre by Phone or Chipatala cha pa Foni, in the vernacular, came through a community-based campaign for maternal and child health innovation, led by the Ministry of Health and Population.
The initiative has been rolled out in nine districts but the service is expected to be expanded nationally by 2019.
The expansion is part of the ministry’s [Health] plan to transition management of the service from partners to full-government ownership.
Simply by calling the short code 54747 from any Airtel phone, the mobile phone health centre callers connect directly with qualified health professionals at a call centre, who are specially trained to answer questions on all general health topics, including nutrition, in accordance with Ministry of Health and Population guidelines.
A press statement from the Ministry of Health signed by Chief of Health Services, Charles Mwansambo, indicates that youth-friendly services and content are also part of services offered, designed to increase access to age-appropriate information on sexual and reproductive health information.
The hotline creates a critical link between the health centre and communities, extending the reach of the health system, where access is most limited.
“The expansion of this service reflects a deep commitment to using innovative approaches to reduce maternal and under-five deaths and increase access to health care for all Malawian men and women.
“The mobile health centre provides individualised health information through a toll-free health hotline staffed by trained health workers. It also provides a mobile message service for personal text or voice messages on maternal and child health topics, customised to a woman’s month of pregnancy or a child’s age. The Malawi Ministry of Health and Population has been closely involved in the development of the hotline from the onset,” the statement reads.
Airtel Malawi is one of the partners of the service. Other donors and partners include United States Agency for International Development, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief through the Dreams Innovation Challenge, GIZ, Johnson & Johnson, and Vitol Foundation have provided critical funding to expand the service in scope and scale, through content development, staff training and infrastructure improvements, most recently moving the hotline call centre from Balaka to a much larger and more technically-advanced facility in Lilongwe.
As the leading implementing partner, Village Reach has been central to developing the Health Centre by Phone intiative.