Almost half of all maternal deaths during childbirth in Uganda could be prevented through antenatal ultrasound scans. Scans are not readily available due to low availability of traditional ultrasound machines and inaccessibility of ultrasound clinics. However, a startup is helping to turn the tide when it comes to maternal mortality in Uganda.
The Issue: Maternal Mortality in Uganda
Approximately 16 women die during childbirth every day in Uganda. According to UNICEF, this equates to an estimated 368 deaths per 100,000 live births. On average, seven of these 16 women die due to “scannable risk factors of maternal mortality”.
Mortality due to conditions such as deficiency in amniotic fluid or umbilical cord problems can be prevented through early detection with ultrasound, throughout the course of the pregnancy. However, traditional ultrasound machines are a rarity in rural Uganda and other low-resource settings across Africa.
In 2017, Prosper Ahimbisibwe, Menyo Innocent, Phyllis Kyomuhendo and Ivan Nasasira identified a possible solution and began developing the M-SCAN device.
A Solution: The M-SCAN Ultrasound Device
The M-SCAN ultrasound device is a portable, lightweight and energy-efficient ultrasound scanner. The device is not dissimilar from a traditional ultrasound probe. The cable, however, facilitates connection to a laptop, tablet or smartphone, compared to the bulky ultrasound machines traditionally used. The device is therefore affordable and is being targeted at low- and middle-income countries. The portative qualities of the device mean it has real-time easy application across a range of specialties and locations. It is accessible in urgent situations, as well as easily shared between multiple patients at any one time.
It stores ultrasound images directly to the device it is connected to (laptop, tablet, mobile). Images are easily visualized and can continue to be visualized and even shared after the M-SCAN ultrasound is finished. The device can work for an entire day when connected to a fully charged laptop, and the laptop will not need to be charged during this time either.
The Impact: The Use of M-SCAN Across Uganda
M-SCAN ultrasound devices are currently being used in five medical clinics in Uganda, reaching more than 300 pregnant women. The portability of the device means that M-SCAN sonographers can even scan mothers in their own homes or community clinics. This saves mothers from journeys that may be costly, time-consuming, or otherwise challenging, particularly while pregnant.
The Future: Using M-SCAN Across Africa
Moving forward, M-SCAN plans to train frontline health care workers in the skills necessary for basic obstetric ultrasound. This is in an effort to establish the M-SCAN ultrasound device as an effective tool for obstetric care across all of rural East Arica.
The M-SCAN device provides an effective solution to the lack of access to ultrasound scans in rural Uganda. With time, the success of the device in reducing maternal mortality in Uganda may be replicated across many low-resource settings in Africa.
– Jess Steward