Why you should care
Because getting health care advice at home saves time and money — and possibly lives.
In August last year, when Benita Joshua was pregnant, she started experiencing sharp pains in her lower abdomen when doing household chores. Since this was the Nigerian woman’s first pregnancy, she asked some friends for advice. One recommended an app where she could share her experience in community forums and also get medical advice. When she posted about her situation, she was relieved to quickly hear from “different mothers” that abdominal pain is typically experienced during pregnancy and that sometimes it’s related to weight gain, she explains.
The Omomi app provides access to lifesaving maternal and child health information for women — and this is a big deal in Africa’s most populous nation. Nigeria currently has a doctor-patient ratio of 1-to-6,000 (the World Health Organization recommends 1-to-600). This results in serious delays in treatment, often because of access or cost. This often dangerous situation prompted Dr. Charles Akhimien and Dr. Emmanuel Owobu, who is also a social entrepreneur, to create a low-cost platform that quickly connects mothers to medical advice.
Mothers can ask health questions anonymously and receive answers from medical professionals in fewer than 10 minutes.
Omomi (meaning “my child”) is a mobile app, web and SMS-based platform that provides virtual health care services to pregnant women and mothers of young children. Subscribers can expect basic antenatal care, postnatal care and other child health care services. “Launching Omomi app was like a call to duty for us,” Owobu explains. “Our goal was to help reduce maternal and child morbidity in Nigeria and improve health education and access to medical doctors.”
Mothers can ask health questions anonymously and receive answers from medical professionals in fewer than 10 minutes. The app “creates room for more doctors to reach more patients than they would generally reach by face-to-face contact,” Owobu says. All at the touch of a button.
The app also includes guidance on family planning, breastfeeding, food supplementation and diarrhea management. Plus there are other handy tools like a fertility calculator and child immunization and growth trackers — with encouraging words and motivation along the way. The Mothers’ Community is where users support each other and share tips. Here Joshua also learned about whether or not honey was safe for a 6-month-old (other mothers advised against it).
Ewatomi Adepoju, 38, has used the app for four years. She likes the immunization management feature, which helps keep track of key dates and durations for her two children’s vaccinations and having almost-instant access to medical advice via the Chat-a-doc feature. “The app is like a doctor in my palm,” she says, likening it to a hospital “consultation while in the comfort of your home.”
Since 2015, the app has been downloaded 40,000 times, and the SMS (Short Message Service) has more than 7,000 users. The service, which is funded by the U.S. State Department via the U.S. Consulate, Lagos and Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria, isn’t the only service of its kind in Nigeria — the CradleCount and Zero Mothers Die apps also provide quick answers to medical advice. However Omomi has a more robust offering with the Mothers’ Community forum and speedy access to a doctor.
Still, the monthly fee of $5 can be too expensive for some. Owobu says they hope to create a “light” version (free) of the app, leveraging on Facebook and WhatsApp, that provides key features, likely in the form of “a small website that requires no downloads of apps,” Owobu says.
But even at the monthly rate, Omomi will likely save its users time and money. When Adepoju reached out to the Mothers’ Community for advice about her child’s diarrhea, other moms responded quickly with advice that “yielded positive results for my baby,” she says. Which saved her a potentially unnecessary and likely costly trip to the doctor.