An SMS-based mobile service that can help avoid unwanted pregnancies

An unplanned and unwanted pregnancy can create a lot of issues for the woman's health and the family. Here is how a mobile service can avoid such situations. Know more about CycleTel Humsafar and how it works from the team which created it.

An unplanned and unwanted pregnancy can create a lot of issues for the woman’s health and the family. Here is how a mobile service can avoid such situations. Learn about CycleTel Humsafar and how it works from the team that created it.

Did you know that India was the first country in the world to adopt an official population policy? India launched a family planning program way back in 1952. However, with 2.5 per cent of the world’s land mass, 17.5 per cent of the world’s population and a total fertility rate of 2.5 (above the replacement rate of 2.1), India has not been successful in meeting its population stabilization target.

It’s not that Indians, especially in semi-urban or rural areas, don’t want family planning. In fact, a report by Dr. S.K. Sikdar of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare notes that 21.3 per cent of women do not want to have another child, but are not using any protection.

The problem lies with the dearth of accessible services that alerts couples of the possible pitfalls in the way of a healthy, happy life. To combat this problem, the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) at Georgetown University has come up with an SMS-based service called CycleTel Humsafar that helps women avoid unwanted pregnancies.

CycleTel Humsafar service can be availed by calling the toll free number - See more at:
CycleTel Humsafar service can be availed by calling a toll free number

It is based on the Standard Days Method (SDM), a scientifically proven method which identifies the set of days in each menstrual cycle when a woman can get pregnant. CycleTel Humsafar then alerts the woman about the increased possibility of pregnancy on those days. Studies conducted in several countries indicate that SDM is more than 95 per cent effective in helping women avoid pregnancy.

The CycleTel Humsafar service can be availed by calling the toll free number: 1800 1800 8000. The customer care service screens potential beneficiaries through specific questions. If eligible, users get personalized messages based on SDM.

The Better India got in touch with the team behind CycleTel Hamsafar at IHR, Georgetown University. This is what they had to say:

Q: In the present context, how relevant do you think is CycleTel Humsafar?

Mobile penetration in India is at a staggering 78 per cent. But only 20 per cent of Indians have access to the Internet even occasionally, while a mere 14 per cent own a smartphone, according to a Pew study. Even though the market continues to move towards more lucrative data driven services, there is still a large market that needs to be serviced through applications that can work on basic feature phones.

As CycleTel Humsafar targets users of basic phones, who may not have access to data services, it is extremely relevant in today’s context. We think it fills an important niche.

Q: CycleTel Humsafar is a very innovative service. What are the challenges you have encountered or expect to encounter while raising awareness about the initiative?

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A big learning for us has been that even though mobile phones have been around for a while and are being used extensively for communication, mobile-enabled services are still in a nascent stage. As a result, the required infrastructure, such as payment systems and marketing partnerships, are difficult to find and operationalize. Also, just because someone has access to a phone doesn’t mean they have the self-efficacy or ability to use our service – so it’s important we not only raise awareness of the service but help potential users understand its value to their lives.

Q: Any particular modifications you had to do with respect to your outreach model, software etc., keeping in mind the Indian populace?

Keeping in mind the various misconceptions and myths around family planning in India, the SMS-based service is complemented by a toll-free helpline to assist with any queries regarding usage, and with focus on engaging men in the family planning discussion.

Additionally, the launch of CycleTel Humsafar has been preceded by a fertility awareness campaign called CycleTel Family Advice. In this campaign, through the medium of SMS stories, important concepts regarding male and female fertility have been communicated to the users. We think this may bridge the adoption gap for new users to feel more confident and knowledgeable about using CycleTel Humsafar.

Q: What is the present status of the project? Any achievements/ milestones?

CycleTel helps you plan your pregnancy better.
CycleTel helps you plan your pregnancy better.
Photo for representation purposes only. Souce:

We launched the fertility advice campaign called CycleTel Family Advice in March 2015, and are aiming to reach 1,00,000 users through the campaign by end of April 2015. CycleTel Humsafar will be offered soon there after in late April.

Q: What are the future plans/Vision for CycleTel?

We will continue to expand our CycleTel services over the next 18 months. Our goal is to reach 3,50,000 users with the fertility advice campaign and get 50,000 CycleTel Humsafar users on board. It will be available in twelve Indian languages.

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About the Author: Rahul Anand is interested in social innovation, enterprise and social impact. He is co-founder of Bloodaid