Francis Ngwa Niba in Yaounde, Cameroon
He is still a fresh faced 24 year old, is now a multiple award winner and has met the queen of England. For someone who is not yet married, has no child and smilingly told me he has no plans to do so soon, being called a “gifted dad” is recognition enough of the huge role he is now playing to reduce child and infant mortality across Cameroon thanks to mobile technology. Alain Nteff is co founder of and director at“Gifted mom” a mobile sms and voice platform that educates and reminds pregnant women on when to go for their next ante natale checks and also to alert mothers on when to take their babies for their next vaccination.
The service now has more than ten thousand users across Cameroon with pans to replicate the model in Nigeria, Kenya, Mali and Ivory Coast within the next five years.
“The idea of gifted mom started in 2012 when with my co-founder Dr Conrad Tanku, we noticed that the rate of maternal and infant mortality in Cameroon was on the rise and one of the reasons was that the government and development agencies were making a lot of resources available to pregnant women and mothers, but there are no channels to educate them about this…With the huge penetration of mobile phones in Cameroon, we saw it as a channel to send lifesaving information to the women”. Alain told me.
The concert is quite simple. Women register for the automated service in a kiosk in one of the 34 health centres and across Cameroon where the service is available. They register their phone number, their last menstrual period and their language preference (French and English are the two official languages) The data collected is sent to the central head office in the capital Yaounde
The women star getting automated text messages giving them information about their developing pregnancies and when in trouble, can text any questions and get answers from the team of doctors and specialists working as part of the service.
In the four years the service has operated, the figures have been impressive and there are ambitions plans for the future. “In some health centres, we have noted that we have increased the rate of ante natal attendance and baby vaccinations by up to 68 percent. In the next six months, by the end of 2016, our target is to reach over 50.000 users. By 2018, we are hoping to reach 5 million users across central and West Africa” according to Mr Nteff.
In March 2016, the case of Monique Koumate 32, a pregnant woman whose sister had to cut her open in a desperate attempt to rescue her twin babies shocked national and international opinion and highlighted the problem of child. Apparently, her relatives did not have enough money to pay for her care and her lifeless body was abandoned in front of the maternity ward of the government run Lanquantini hospital Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. In the face of the outrage that followed when a video of her ordeal was released, Public Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda, contested the version of events given by the family insisting Miss Koumate did not have adequate ante natal care. Apparently, she attended the clinin ony once during her pregnancy. Alain Nteff says the case tragedy brought out “the reality of the situation and revealed the gap in health care in Cameroon”. He insists Preventive medicine is the way to reduce cases like this as the healthcare system across Africa struggles to manage the rising population across the continent.
Dr Agbor Ashu 26, is the programme officer and one of the many doctors who reply to questions from the anxious pregnant women and mothers with young children. He said the typical questions women asked concerned what food to give their babies, bleeding during pregnancy and abdominal pains. The anxious women were usually advised to breastfeed their children for at least the first six months of their lives, to see a doctor when bleeding persisted and sometimes just changing their sleeping positions could resolve quite a number of pain related pregnancies. “A very popular question we keep getting which was unexpected is sex during pregnancy and when, and how they could get it”. The advice was also as simple as the whole “Gifted mom” plaform. Sex is permitted during and even a day before delivery provided the women adopted the right position.
Some amount of discretion and anonymity is always necessary to handle situations and questions as intimate as some of the women wanted answers to. Carol is four months pregnant and is one of the users of the service and explains how it works.
“I receive about two sms messages every week which corresponds to te development of my pregnancy. They are mainly advisory messages. Because I have given information to the service about my various hospital appointments, I usually get a text message two days in advance to remind me about my upcoming appointment. On the day of the appointment itself, I get another text message early in the money to attend my appointment. I have asked many questions since I got pregnant. Last week, I had some unusual (heart) palpitations and I also had a lot of waist pains. I asked the doctor what to do and he replied within ten minutes. He told me to visit a doctor immediately because the palpitations were not normal. Concerning my waist pain, he told me to rest a lot, drink a lot of water and eat well”.
Alain Nteff has received numerous international awards including the 2015 Young Leaders award. Queen Elizabeth handed the award personally to the young entrepreneur and he describes the award as “ a he endorsement to us and has led us to have many other partners”. The Mastercard Foundation gave Alain Nteff his first award in 2014, barely two years after he started GiftedMom. They attended the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland is 2015 and were the youngest participants. The cash payments that came with the awards has helped the platform in scaling up their operations.
On the future of GiftedMom, Nteff is quite optimistic, “I think the future is very bright. We are starting now with sms education for pregnant women. We believe preventive health education is important in Africa where we don’t have enough infrastructure to care for complications. We also belief that our goal is to ensure that every pregnant woman in every country where will operate receives a text message and has a safe pregnancy”.
Alain Nteff, the young and ambitious former engineering student will one day be a real gifted dad but for now, is content to help prevent thousands of unnecessary infant and maternal deaths; he prefers a world of healthy happy and gifted mothers.
The Big Interview
Alain Nteff. Co-Founder and Director at GiftedMom., the leading mobile health platform in Africa.
Francis Ngwa Niba has been talking to Alain Nteff
Q How did this all start?
The idea of gifted mom started in 2012 when with my co founder Dr Conrad Tanku, we noticed that the rate of maternal and infant mortality in Cameroon was on the rise and one of the reasons was that the government and development agencies were making a lot of resources available to pregnant women and mothers, but there are no channels to educate them about this…With the huge penetration of mobile phones in Cameroon, we saw it as a channel to send lifesaving information to the women”.
Q How does it work?
For a woman to get advice from automated platform, registration can be done at the level of health centres. We are currently working with about 34 health centres in five regions across Cameroon where we have kiosks where women can subscribe. They give us their phone numbers, their last menstrual periods and their (preferred) language. We send this information to our platform which starts sending automatic follow up by sms. If we are not in your health area, you can register for the sms service by texting the word “mom” to 8566 which is a short code number which is free for pregnant women and mothers and they will be registered in the system. Also through this number, a woman can send us her questions if she has any pregnancy related complications or if their baby is not in good health. We connect her directly to a medical doctor who replies to these questions
Q. What are some of the most common questions the women ask?
When we launched this number, for the first ten days, we had over a thousand interactions and the top questions were about bleeding in pregnancy and they wanted to know what to do when that happened. Through our platform, we can categorise the women and if their case is really complicated and needs a follow up or when it is a simple problem that one of our doctors can answer. There are also loads of questions on what food to give babies
Q. Can you talk some figures now?
In the last two years, we have created some impact. “We have over 10.000 users in at least 34 health centres and in some health centres, we noticed that we have increased the rate of ante natal attendance and baby vaccinations by up to 68 percent. In the next six months by the end of 2016, our target is to reach over 50.000 users and by 2018, we are hoping to get more than 5 million users across west and central Africa.
Q. So you intend to Africanize the whole concert?
Yes of course. What is really key to us now is having a stable base in Cameroon. We have a very good relationship with the Ministry of Public Health. We are hoping to have kisoks in all the 200 key hospitals and health centres in Cameroon Since this is an African problem, we are also looking at countries Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast and Kenya where we can replicate what we are already doing here in Cameroon
Q I understand you have won loads of Awards? I can see some here in your office.
We have won a couple of awards which for us has been a way of raising money to run the business. We have been able to mobilize a lot of funds to scale this solution, Our first award was in 2014 by the mastercard foundation where we were named African top social enterprise of the year. Later on we went to Davos, we were the youngest participants at the world economic forum. We have also received an award from her majesty
Q. How do you look at the future of the project.
I think the future is very bright. We are starting now with sms education for pregnant women. We believe preventive health education is important in Africa where we don’t have enough infrastructure to care for complications. We also belief that our goal is to ensure that every pregnant woman in every country where will operate receives a text message and has a safe pregnancy.
Q. We had some really tragic cases concerning preganant women recently, Monique Koumate in Douala whose relative had to cut her open to retrieve her twins and another lady in Yaounde who lost her triplets because there was no incubator. Hoe does a service like yours prevent things like this from happening?
Those were both tragic situations in Cameroon but at the same ime brought out the realities on the ground. We all know we have this huge gap in our public health system. For us we believe in preventive health. In Africa, the infrastructure you need to save these lies might take the next 20-30 years before we can acquire them but with preventive technologies like us, we can actually prevent complications from happening and actually informing women about healthy tips and having a healthy pregnancy. Right now we are putting all our eggs in preventive health. In the future when this can be resolved, we can move into other technologies like diagnostics
Q. You are only 24 so I assume you are not yet married?
I am not married, I don’t have any kids although a lot of my friends call me gifted dad.
Q. So when you become a gifted dad for real from the time your future wife gets pregnant to delivery, everything will be done to make it safe?
That is what we all hope for.We are just there to provide a solution but God is ultimately the only ne who knows what will happen
Q. Lets get a bit practical here. At the appropriate time, what will you do practically to make sure your future son or daughter will be delivered safely?
The first thing will be my future wife registering with the sms service. I also however think some people have the means to make sure their families can take care when women get pregnant and can afford treatment. This is not the case for many families across Cameroon and those in rural areas. I think for my case, It will be relatively easier as compared to other families. I have many doctors I can call on to help me even at2 am in the night if there is any complication.
Q. So you will become a gifted dad?
Q. Very Soon I presume?
Yes. Very soon I hope (Smiles)