US gov’t and mobile carriers launch health texting campaign

The White House and major mobile carriers have launched a text-messaging campaign aimed at improving the health of babies in the U.S.

The Text4baby campaign, with support from health-care providers and several government agencies, will deliver health information to women from early pregnancy through their babies’ first birthdays. The campaign, created by the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, will attempt to provide health tips to combat high rates of premature births and infant deaths in the U.S., the White House said in a press release.

More than 500,000 U.S. babies, or one in eight, are born prematurely each year, and an estimated 28,000 children die before their first birthday, the White House said. The U.S. infant mortality rate is among the highest in the industrialized world.

“Text4baby is the first free mobile health service to be taken to scale in the United States,” Aneesh Chopra, CTO for the U.S. government, said in a statement. “Text4baby represents an extraordinary opportunity to expand the way we use our phones, to demonstrate the potential of mobile health technology, and make a real difference for moms and babies across the country.”

About 90 percent of U.S. residents have mobile phones, and texting is prevalent among women of childbearing age and minority populations that face higher infant mortality rates, the White House said.

More than 95 per cent of U.S. mobile subscribers will have access to Text4baby, said a spokeswoman for CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers. The text messages sent through the program will be free for subscribers, and mobile carriers participating in the program include AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, Virgin Mobile, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular, CTIA said.

Mobile service has “the unique ability to deliver valuable, life-enhancing information anywhere, anytime,” Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, said in a statement.

Women can sign up for the service by texting “baby” or “bebe” to 511411. Participating women will receive three text messages a week, timed to the stage of the baby’s development. The messages will focus on several topics, including preventing birth defects, immunization, nutrition and safe sleep. The campaign will also connect women to public clinics and support services for prenatal and infant care.

The medical expenses for a premature baby average about 10 times those of babies born after a full-term pregnancy, the White House said. Premature births in the U.S. cost US$26.2 billion in 2005, the White House said.

Among the sponsors or partners of Text4baby are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Johnson & Johnson, WellPoint, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, George Washington University, and MTV Networks. Voxiva is providing the mobile health platform.

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