Wagner Project to Track Saving Habits of Pregnant Women in Kenya


Every year, hundreds of thousands of women across the globe die during childbirth as a result of preventable conditions, some attributable to not being able to afford proper care. Starting in fall 2012, an 18-month research initiative in Kenya will deliver, via mobile phones, a set of interventions designed in part to help pregnant women set aside enough savings to cover the cost of skilled care and delivery assistance.

The research will be conducted by James Habyarimana and Billy Jack, both of Georgetown University, Tavneet Suri
of MIT, and Karen Grépin, an assistant professor of global health policy at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, in collaboration with Changamka, Ltd., a Kenya micro-savings company. Financial support for the project comes from the Microsavings and Payments Innovation Initiative at Yale University, Innovations for Poverty Action, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Grépin, whose research focuses on the economics and politics of health service delivery in developing countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa, recently spoke with NYU Research Digest about the project.

What’s the specific goal of the project?

Pregnant women in many developing countries, including Kenya, say that financial barriers keep them from seeking proper maternal health services, including skilled assistance at delivery. What are the barriers to increased savings needed to cover the costs associated with delivery? That is the primary question we will attempt to answer.

What role will mobile phones play?

One of the big innovations in this project is that we plan to deliver all of the interventions that we are testing via mobile phones. Mobile phones have become widely available in many developing countries, and people don’t use them just for communication; they are also used as credit cards and bank accounts, especially in Kenya. If we find that our interventions are successful, they can be scaled up rapidly and inexpensively due to the availability of this technological platform.

What unique challenges do you anticipate?

Our primary research site will be in densely populated urban slums in Kenya.  Since we need to track and monitor women for approximately one year, that will be challenging.

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