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New Delhi: Centre’s plan to launch the Kilkari scheme nationwide to provide health advice through voice messages over mobile phones to pregnant women and mothers is set to miss planned launch date of 15 August.

The service is now expected to be launched by the end of October or November.

“The programme on a pilot basis has already been launched, but the nationwide roll out in my estimation will take till November," said Manoj Jhalani, joint secretary, department of health and family welfare.

Under the scheme, pregnant women registered with government health centres will receive voice messages that will inform them about the check-ups and vaccinations required, and offer health-related advice, according to the stage of pregnancy or age of the newborn child.

According to data from the Registrar General of India, the country’s maternal mortality rate (the number of women dying during or after childbirth) was 178 per 100,000 live child births during 2010-12.

“We are still to finalize the telecom operator who will set the PRI (primary rate interface) to send out messages," said Jhalani. PRI is used for transmission of multiple voice messages and data from a network to users.

Explaining why the launch date will be missed, Jhalani said that though the tender had been issued and consultations were under way with telecom service providers, the deadline for telcos to submit the proposals was extended to introduce more competition and ensure that all clauses are in place. “There are conditions such as penalty on downtime and other such for which we need suggestions from the telcos," said Jhalani.

Outbound calls will be free for users but the government will pay the telecom firms that will win the bid.

Kilkari was first piloted by the Bihar government in 2013, and till date, around 110,000 families have subscribed to the service.

“Based on success of Bihar, the government decided to launch the service nationwide," said Sara Chamberlain, head of information communication technology for BBC Media Action in India, which developed the technical platform and the content for the project.

“In Bihar, the service was available for 64 weeks, but in the nationwide service, it will be 72 weeks," said Chamberlain. So, a woman who registers during the first month of her pregnancy will get health advice, both regarding her and the child, till the baby is nine months old.

The messages will be delivered in languages chosen by the user. “In phase one, we plan to launch in Hindi, Odiya and hopefully Santhaali and Chhotanagpuri. In phase two, it will be various dialects of Rajasthan, and then we will extend to other languages," said Chamberlain.

Santhali and Chotanagpuri are languages spoken by two tribes who live mostly in Jharkhand.

The technical platform, according to Chamberlain, is ready, and the government has even acquired a data centre in Gurgaon to manage the project.

“We will manage and support the programme for maybe three years and then transfer it to the government," said Chamberlain.

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