Happy mothers in western Kenya have ‘LUCY’ to thank

The app has health information, clinic visits calendar, mood tracker and profile tabs

In Summary

• A pregnancy and newborn health app was first launched in South America

• It is helping Kenyan women experience positive outcomes for themselves, their kids

Ann Warenga holds her newborn baby
Ann Warenga holds her newborn baby

Deep in the hills of Kajiado, Kisii and Migori counties in western Kenya, expectant mothers are rewriting the narratives of their pregnancy experiences. And they have LUCY to thank.

On the morning of August 12, in the bustling border town of Namanga in Kajiado County, 27-year-old Ann Warenga delivered a newborn baby girl. To her joy, baby Ann, whom she named after herself, was born healthy and weighed 3.7kg.

Just a few kilometres away, 31-year-old Rebecca Nduta, three months pregnant, was excited about her pregnancy.

The two mothers have markedly different testaments compared to their previous pregnancies. Warenga, a mother of two boys, acknowledged that all three of her pregnancies were unique but hastened to add that the latest was the smoothest and most relaxed, thanks to LUCY.

“The knowledge I have gained through this app is something I genuinely never encountered during my pregnancies with my sons,” Warenga shared.

“LUCY has been so beneficial that I have not felt the need to visit the clinic even when I had moments of pregnancy anxiety.”

Nduta, who has one child, agrees that the app is helpful. She emphasises on her improved pregnancy journey in her second pregnancy despite bad morning sickness.

“The biggest challenge in my first trimester is the morning sickness. However, unlike my first pregnancy, right now, I can overcome bad days faster and more effectively because LUCY gives me tips on how to tackle them,” Nduta said.

Not only for Warenga but for other expectant mothers in these rural areas, LUCY has emerged as an unexpected and invaluable companion during the most critical times, providing comfort, guidance and a supportive community for women on similar journeys but who often live deep in the countryside and are physically isolated.

LUCY was launched in the area in April 2023, through a collaboration between Kenya-based Amref International University, and Health(e) Foundation, a global health e-learning platform, which developed the app through a collaboration between the governments of the Netherlands and Suriname.

Through a project called “Tekeleza”, LUCY improves access to medical information and care for women in the area through an evidence-based digital solution. The app adheres to international guidelines and the national immunisation schedule, while being culturally sensitive to the needs of Kenyan women, communicating with them in their own language.

Warenga and Nduta are just two of the expectant women in these three counties who have benefited from Tekelaza, which sees community health promoters trained by Amref International University conducting door-to-door household visits, organising gatherings, showcasing the app’s capabilities and highlighting its potential to transform the lives of expectant mothers in rural areas of Kenya.

Abdiah Salah, a community health promoter in Namanga, said the response from expectant women had been overwhelmingly positive.

"The community and women appreciate the reliable resource that guides (them) through pregnancy. The women also connect with a supportive community and as a result, we are seeing a more informed and engaged community of expectant mothers," Salah said.

Kajiado Community Health Assistant Officer Suzanne Marima, who doubles up as the head of health promoters in Kenya, expressed her enthusiasm about the project’s potential to revolutionise maternal and child healthcare.

“This is a good project for the growth of the community. In the few months that we have been in the field educating women, we have noted a tremendous uptake in the use of the application,” Marima said.

“We ensure that when a woman has her first antenatal visit to the clinic, we sign her up on LUCY immediately.”

To get started on LUCY, expectant women just tap their details into their smartphones. Thereafter, they interact with the navigation process of the app which includes health information, clinic visits calendar, mood tracker and profile tabs. The information obtained from the app is based on the gestational age or the age of the newborn.

After keying in the first day of her last menstrual period, LUCY automatically calculates a mother’s expected delivery date and provides daily information, through notifications, specific to her pregnancy.

Tekeleza Project Manager, Priscilla Ngunju, said that at least 250 women in the area had already signed up, and as sensitisation continues, the numbers are expected to go higher.

“It was important to integrate the app to ensure that mothers were receiving credible information while at home,” Ngunju said.

“Currently, collection of data of user experience is ongoing, and this will advise on the development of additional features in the next six months.”

The Tekeleza project has also incorporated another mobile application known as Mjali. Community Health Promoters use Mjali to enrol mothers in 'Linda Mama', a free health insurance programme covered by the Kenyan government to provide antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care for ease of monitoring of health outcomes.

At the 2023 World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, Kenya was recognised for its exceptional performance in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

According to the 2022 Kenya Demographic Health survey, childhood deaths have been on a steady decline in the past 10 years, with under-five deaths also seeing substantial reductions.

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