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Women’s Health in IndiaWomen’s health in India is still vulnerable to several risks such as high maternal mortality rates, lack of preventative care and misinformation about family planning and contraception. Despite this, India has proven itself a pioneer in technological innovation among developing countries and it is putting its new innovations towards improving women’s healthcare. 

Maternal Health and Newborn Development

Although maternal mortality rates in India have declined substantially in the last decade, the number of recorded deaths related to pregnancy complications in the country is still remarkably high. A report by UNICEF estimates that 44,000 women die due to preventable pregnancy-complications in India yearly. These complications often stem from a lack of knowledge and inherently the inability to understand that their baby isn’t developing correctly. This lack of knowledge results in fewer women seeking treatment that could save their lives. To combat this, organizations are developing innovative mobile apps to help women stay proactive and educated about the health of their babies and the status of their pregnancies. 

For example, in 2014, MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), an organization dedicated to women’s maternal health in developing countries, developed a digital service called mMitra. The service sends recordings and SMS messages to new and expectant mothers with crucial information about the early stages of pregnancy and child development within the first year of life. The app, which collected 50,000 subscribers within months of its launch, sends educational content to women in their native languages and at times of their choosing. The app,  mMitra ultimately aims to help women pick up on pregnancy and child development issues early and seek treatment before symptoms escalate or endanger the mother and child. 

Breast Exams and Preventative Care

Mammograms are an essential part of preventative care for women globally. Despite this, it is estimated that over 90 percent of women in the developing world go without this essential screening examination. Particularly, in India, high-costs, unsustainable electricity and lack of properly trained radiologists are major causes for the inaccessibility to mammograms and other procedures like it. More women die of breast cancer in the country than anywhere else in the world (around 70,000 women annually). While these high death rates due to inaccessibility to preventive care are tragic, they’ve inspired innovative medical devices that have revolutionized women’s health in India. 

One such device, known as iBreastExam was invented by computer engineer Mihir Shah. Shah invented the device to ensure that women in even the most rural parts of India could get affordable, accurate breast exams and seek treatments as needed. The battery-operated wireless machine is designed to record variations in breast elasticity and performs full examinations in five minutes, posting and recording results through a mobile app. Not only that, the exams are painless, radiation-free and are extremely affordable at $1 to $4 per exam.

Family Planning and Contraceptive Options

Lack of family planning and knowledge of contraceptive options is another challenge in improving women’s health in India. Many Indian women shy away from modern family planning and contraception due to things like familial expectations, cultural influence and a general fear stemming from misinformation from disreputable resources. Family planning and the use of contraception could reduce India’s high maternal mortality rates. However, without proper education on these matters, it is difficult for young Indian women to make informed decisions about what options are best for them. But, in the midst of India’s technological revolution, an increase in accessibility to mobile devices is steadily transforming the way women are gaining health awareness in India. 

There is a particular mobile app that is playing a huge role in improving women’s health awareness in India. Known as Gyan Jyoti, the mobile app provides credible information through educational films, TV advertisements and expert testimonials from doctors. It also acts as a counseling tool for ASHAS (appointed health counselors). The app allows ASHAS to expand their knowledge of family planning through an e-learning feature, customize their counseling plan according to the needs of clients and monitor and store client activity in order to provide the best information possible. 

Overall, while there are still many challenges in improving women’s health in India, the country has proven itself to be a pioneer in technological innovation. Just as well, it’s proven that transformation is possible by putting its innovations towards women’s health awareness through mobile apps, life-saving hand-held devices, and educational platforms that can be accessed at the click of a button. 

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

 

Bangladesh uses mobiles
“It’s time for the second tetanus toxoid vaccine. Just one more and your baby will be protected against tetanus. Go to your clinic now,” reads one mobile message from Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

Bangladesh is hard at work trying to meet Millennium Goals 4 and 5. In partnership with MAMA, the country has implemented a project to reduce mother and child deaths. Over 500,000 women already subscribe to the service. Named Aponjon, meaning “dear one,” the project sends over 350 free text and voice messages to expectant and new parents. The messages contain information about a range of pregnancy and childcare-related subjects, such as nutrition, vaccinations and when to go to the doctor. They can even be selected by topic, so mothers can request messages about preventing HIV transmission to their children, or post-partum family planning, if they require it. The messages are not just for mothers, either. There are some tailored for fathers and mothers-in-law, as well.

The goal of Aponjon is to reach mothers who do not have as much access to medical care. This is particularly relevant in rural areas, where Bangladesh’s dropping maternal mortality rate has made a smaller impact. While Bangladesh has reduced its maternal mortality rate by 66 percent, this change has been strongest in urban areas, under private medical care.

Aponjon allows women who cannot make it to clinic or who are nervous to talk to doctors, to understand how to take care of themselves and their babies. Since the adult female literacy rate is only 57.7 percent, messages are sent vocally as well as through SMS text.

The mobile company Telenor is also trying to expand health services, now that Bangladesh uses mobiles, to other countries as well. It currently offers a service where physicians answer health questions by phone at any time of day. It is also working on using video conferencing for doctor-patient interactions.

Bangladesh is also working to increase mothers’ health in other ways. Female education is increasing in the country, and currently more girls are educated than boys. Increased education leads people to seek more healthcare, as well as to have fewer children. There is also more education in medical-related fields. Also, the Bangladesh government, WHO, and the UN Population Fund introduced a program to train 3,000 midwives by 2015. Since only a third of Bangladeshi women have a skilled physician with them as they give birth, the program is designed to increase maternal health. Over 1,000 people have already completed the first stage of training.

All of these goals put Bangladesh well on the way to meeting and exceeding the Millennium Goals, in addition to creating a happier and healthier population for the country.

– Monica Roth

Sources: IRIN, Daily Star, MAMA, WHO, The Hindu, Htxt
Photo: MAMA