How Indian healthcare workers are using WhatsApp to save pregnant women

How Indian healthcare workers are using WhatsApp to save pregnant women

How Indian healthcare workers are using WhatsApp to save pregnant women

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Over the past five years, Patil has trained hundreds of ASHAs from different states to use WhatsApp to debunk misinformation.


Maya Patil, an ASHA from Kutwad village in Maharashtra, says she noticed similar positive results after using WhatsApp. She has worked in the field for 13 years, and in 2018 she met a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy with low hemoglobin who had recently been diagnosed with anemia. She tried to put the woman in touch with the relevant public doctor, but the family wanted her to use natural methods to increase her hemoglobin level.

Patil asked the pregnant woman to start drinking pomegranate juice, which has been shown to increase hemoglobin levels, but her mother said pomegranate juice caused kidney stones. Patil tried for several hours to explain the science, but the family was unconvinced and also uninterested in anemia medication.

Out of habit, Patil had taken pictures of hundreds of regional newspaper articles dealing with common health misinformation written by doctors. In one, she found details about the benefits of pomegranate seeds and pomegranate juice. She sent the article to the pregnant woman in a WhatsApp message. Then she found more relevant YouTube videos recorded in Marathi, the woman’s language. After 10 such posts, she finally had an impact; the family allowed the woman to follow their advice, and within 12 days her hemoglobin level had risen.

They worked together for three weeks, and when the woman delivered, it was a normal delivery with a healthy newborn weighing six and a half pounds.

Creating a safer space for women

Although they had successfully fought off much of the misinformation for several years, many ASHAs still saw pregnant women who were too scared to talk about their pregnancy for fear of their in-laws and husbands. Even in large ASHA-led group messages, many men in the community responded with “ill-informed comments”, says ASHA union leader Netradipa Patil.

Maya Patil also deplores the persistence of dangerous medical information transmitted by the family. “The primary purpose of any fake news related to pregnancy is to make women suffer,” she says. “Many older women say they went through these rituals during pregnancy, so why shouldn’t the next generation deal with them?”

In addition to ensuring safer childbirth, ASHA workers are also responsible for providing proper postnatal health care to women in the community. Here, Maya Patil explains how to take care of a newborn baby.


So in 2018 and 2019, ASHAs began forming all-female hyperlocal WhatsApp groups. With a small group of only 15 to 20 pregnant women and their relativesparents, Netradipa Patil would endeavor to help them understand the scientific aspects of care. “It was tough, but easier than dealing with hundreds of people at once.” After six months of testing, the women in the groups even said they talked about misinformation in their homes.


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