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IVF/ART School is an innovative mHealth program aimed at providing support and information to women and couples undergoing infertility treatment

The Health and Development Foundation, a Russian NGO with 10 years’ experience working in public health communication and development, launched a new nationwide mHealth program for ART clients in January 2013. 

This initiative, IVF/ART School, is aimed at informing and supporting women and their families undergoing assisted reproductive technology treatment through an innovative combination of traditional and mHealth approaches. IVF/ART School will reach its core audience through a multi-tiered approach including offline seminars with reproductive health specialists at clinics; social networks, a program site, and regular webinars online; and text messages to participants' mobile phones. This comprehensive approach will enable us to maintain a strong connection with our target audience, each component informing and reinforcing program messages, and provide them with multiple chances for interaction with peers and experts. 

The program receives financial support from MSD (the trade name of Merck&Co outside the United States and Canada). 

Why IVF? 

The demographic situation in Russia has been a point of concern for the government and the general population since birth rates began to decline in the last decade of the 20th century. Population increases in the last several years have injected some optimism into the discussion, but state and public organizations are still eager to do what they can to promote population growth (including monetary incentives for pregnant women and mothers). 

Against this background, the need for easy access to assisted reproductive technology treatment for couples dealing with infertility issues is clear. In fact, the Russian government recently announced that infertility treatment would be covered under the free state insurance starting in 2013. 

But while financial support is important, it is also vital that women and couples seeking treatment, or considering seeking treatment, are well informed as to their options, and are receiving the emotional support that can greatly influence the success of infertility treatment. That is where the IVF/ART School can play a key role; program participants will receive expert, unbiased information and support from several sources, including their peer group, increasing the likelihood that they will maintain treatment until reaching a successful outcome. 

mHealth in Russia and our experience 

While mHealth and eHealth solutions are a relatively new field globally, there has been a sharp increase in recent years of health-related programs and applications using mobile technologies and Internet support in both the developed and the developing world, with U.S. consumers choosing from an array of diet and exercise mobile apps, and community health workers in Africa getting text message support when visiting patients. 
Russia, however, has not been at the forefront of this global trend; although mobile phone penetration is quite high, well over 100%, there are a very small number of eHealth and mHealth solutions currently being implemented. The Health and Development Foundation has been a pioneer in the field, launching Russia’s first national public health text message program just last year in 2012. 

The IVF/ART School’s four-pronged approach described above (websites, webinars, text messaging, and offline trainings) is a natural outgrowth of HDF’s experience incorporating mHealth elements into traditional outreach and educational programs. 

HDF first introduced a text-messaging component in one of our initiatives in 2007 for the HIV Prevention Among Injection Drug Users program. IDUs and other clients at high risk for HIV and STIs were recruited from several substance abuse clinics and a high-risk maternity hospital in two Russian regions to participate. These participants received individual and group counseling while in inpatient treatment centers/hospital, and a 9-month cycle of text messages and phone calls upon release, in an effort to improve outcomes connected to HIV/STI testing and treatment adherence and substance abuse treatment adherence among a group with traditionally high drop-out rates. M&E data showed positive results in these areas. 

Other programs have been more focused on mHealth as the main component; in 2012, HDF launched Text4baby Russia, a nationwide maternal and child health text messaging program. Through this program, new and expectant mothers receive information on caring for their health and the health of their children through free text messages to their mobile phones. Subscribers receive 1-2 texts per week on topics like nutrition, safety, substance abuse prevention, legal rights, breastfeeding, and more. 

Text4baby Russia is based on the successful U.S. program text4baby, but was significantly adapted by HDF and its government and medical community partners to ensure that the messages meet the specific cultural and socio-economic needs of its Russian target audience. There are currently over 16,000 subscribers, and the program continues to expand throughout the country. HDF is currently piloting a webinar series to address text message topics in greater depth, and plans to launch the series in early 2013.