How mo­bile phones are making child­birth safer in Ethiopia

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

AD­DIS ABABA: In Ethiopia where al­most nine in ev­ery 10 women give birth at home af­ter preg­nan­cies with lit­tle or no med­i­cal sup­port, a mo­bile phone app is com­ing to the res­cue with life­sav­ing guide­lines when things go wrong. The “Safe De­liv­ery App”, cre­ated by the Dan­ish de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion the Ma­ter­nity Foun­da­tion, pro­vides sim­pli­fied in­struc­tions and an­i­mated films to deal with emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, be it haem­or­rhag­ing, birthing com­pli­ca­tions, re­sus­ci­tat­ing new­borns or in­fec­tions.

“Mid­wives may have skills and knowl­edge,” said Mes­fin Wondafrash, the Ma­ter­nity Foun­da­tion’s pro­gram man­ager in the Horn of Africa state. “But they may not ap­ply the right pro­ce­dures when com­pli­ca­tions arise-even sim­ple com­pli­ca­tions.” At the touch of a but­ton, the app can give cru­cial guide­lines to birth at­ten­dants, who are of­ten tra­di­tion­ally ed­u­cated and may lack train­ing in up-to-date pro­ce­dures that could save lives. The ini­tia­tive is prov­ing even more vi­tal in ru­ral ar­eas, where the only help many moth­ers get is from fam­ily mem­bers or a lo­cal woman. De­scribed as an “emer­gency train­ing tool”, the app is avail­able in lo­cal lan­guages and in English. And a key as­set: it can be pre-in­stalled on a mo­bile tele­phone so it works even with­out a net­work con­nec­tion or In­ter­net ac­cess.

‘Easy to understand, ac­cess, up­date’

Of­fi­cially, 85 per­cent of Ethiopian ba­bies are born at home. The hos­pi­tal is of­ten seen as an op­tion only when ma­jor com­pli­ca­tions arise-of­ten too late to save a life. “Preg­nant women wait at home and if a com­pli­ca­tion oc­curs, like bleed­ing, it may be too late to ac­cess care,” Mes­fin told AFP. In a promis­ing trial run, test­ing started last year in the small town of Gim­bie in the Oromo re­gion, some 450 kilo­me­ters (280 miles) west of the cap­i­tal Ad­dis Ababa.

A to­tal 78 mo­bile phones with the “Safe De­liv­ery App” were given to mid­wives at­tend­ing lo­cal women. “Af­ter a year, the ca­pac­ity of the app users to man­age bleed­ing rose from 20 to 60 per­cent, and for new born re­sus­ci­ta­tion, from 30 to 70 per­cent,” Mes­fin added. “If all health care providers could use this app, safe de­liv­ery would in­crease.”The Ma­ter­nity Foun­da­tion says the pre­lim­i­nary re­sults “show a re­mark­able im­prove­ment in the skill and knowl­edge level of the health work­ers.” “The ad­van­tage of the app over a med­i­cal book is that it is easy to understand, easy to ac­cess and easy to up­date,” said foun­da­tion chief Anna Frellsen.

Ev­ery year, five mil­lion ba­bies and 289,000 moth­ers die from com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to child­birth world­wide, with the ma­jor­ity of the deaths in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries such as Ethiopia. The foun­da­tion-whose motto is “no women should die giv­ing life” — aims to tap the sharp rise in mo­bile phone users in Africa, a tech­nol­ogy, it said, that of­fers “abun­dant un­ex­plored po­ten­tial” to quickly reach oth­er­wise hard to ac­cess ar­eas.

“With the Safe De­liv­ery App, we can over­come one of the big­gest bar­ri­ers to pre­vent­ing ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity: the lack of trained child­birth sup­port. We can reach health work­ers that are oth­er­wise dif­fi­cult to reach,” she said. The app is also be­ing tested in Ghana and will soon be de­ployed in Tan­za­nia, Guinea and else­where. The foun­da­tion’s goal is to equip 10,000 health work­ers by 2017. “If we achieve that, we will have en­sured a safer birth for ap­prox­i­mately one mil­lion women,” said Frellsen. —AFP

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