Maternal health is one of the greatest global health challenges today. Despite advancements in medical technology, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 800 women and girls die every day from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. In developing nations, there is an especially high risk of death associated with pregnancy as health workers do not have the adequate resources to safely perform deliveries. Newly-designed electronic maternal health apps are targeting these at-risk groups to prevent death.
There are unacceptable disparities in access to maternal health services that disproportionately affect less educated, impoverished women of color compared to the rest of the world. In fact, according to the WHO, women in the richest socioeconomic quartile are three times as likely to have a safe delivery with a nurse or midwife as women in the poorest quartile.
Even though the maternal mortality rate has dropped 44 percent since 1990, the socioeconomic disparity in access to maternal health services has not changed in 15 years. The persistent gap in health care access reflects the inability of current healthcare delivery systems to provide equitable services, regardless of sex, race or economic status.
Recently, the global health community has turned to nontraditional methods of providing care. While 99 percent of preventable maternal deaths occur in developing nations, nearly three-quarters of mobile devices are being used throughout the same countries. In response to the growing demand for improved communication, medical providers and health care NGOs are focusing on mobile technology as the new frontier for maternal health care. Here are three ground-breaking maternal health apps increasing access to lifesaving services worldwide.
Gifted Mom is a Cameroon-based mobile health platform that uses low-cost technology to provide medical information to mothers and pregnant women in rural communities. Expectant and new mothers can register to receive SMS updates about their health and the health of their babies. Periodically-timed messages will remind them when it’s best to vaccinate their babies and why it’s important to go for antenatal (post-pregnancy) checkups. For women who can’t read, Gifted Mom is developing speech technology that will communicate important information in local languages. When the project launched in 2012, only eight women registered. Today, over 2,000 women are subscribed to receive potentially life-saving information about pregnancy and newborn health. By simply texting “MOM” to 8006, women can receive scheduled reminders about antenatal care and vaccines as well as real-time answers to their questions from medical professionals.
Zero Mothers Die
Just like Gifted Mom, Zero Mothers Die aims to save the lives of women and their children through mobile technology. They send SMS and voice messages to women containing important health information, while giving them the opportunity to call local health care workers with any questions.
Using an integrated network of partners, including the Ghana Ministry of Health, The U.N.’s Program on HIV/AIDS and the Millenia 2025 Foundations, Zero Mothers Die disperses data on disease surveillance and maternal health issues across various digital platforms which health care workers and women alike can access through their app.
Safe Delivery is the only app of its kind to focus on health care workers performing deliveries in remote locations. The app features animated instructional videos that explain how to perform life-saving procedures, such as maternal sepsis, hypertension and prolonged labor. The app also provides step-by-step guides on how to safely remove placentas and resuscitate newborns.
The technology employs the WHO’s clinical guidelines and informs health care workers on common medicines associated with childbirth, appropriate dosages and their possible side effects. Safe Delivery is especially useful in settings where a small team of workers is responsible for treating a variety of problems, regardless of whether or not they had obstetric training.
Most maternal deaths are preventable, thanks to innovations in modern medicine and improved health knowledge. The challenge is reaching disenfranchised women who don’t have access to basic maternal care. These maternal health apps prove that knowledge alone can be one of the most powerful tools for preserving human life.
– Jessica Levitan