Chanceline, a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is seven months pregnant. She’s been walking for almost three hours, and will continue walking for two hours more.
She’s traveling to a prenatal doctor’s appointment, which is 17 miles away. With no public or private transportation available, Chanceline has to travel on foot.
It’s a journey documented in real time in the video below — and it’s a reality that is all-too-common around the world.
In a global community that often treats health care as a luxury rather than a necessity, the world’s mothers are arguably some of those most impacted by inequality in access. That’s especially true for pregnant women and mothers living in developing nations, who are often left to grapple with health care accessibility, affordability and practicality.
Many developing nations are home to health care deserts — regions where accessing proper care is often unrealistic due to travel time or financial cost. And the impact of these health care deserts is undeniable.
The World Health Organization reports more than 800 women globally die each day from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy. Almost all of those women — a staggering 99% — live in developing nations.
More than 800 women globally die each day from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy.
Major complications accounting for most of these maternal deaths include severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, complications during birth and unsafe abortions. For the most part, these complications are preventable with greater access and education for both expectant mothers and health care providers.
That’s where mobile health, often known by the abbreviation mHealth, can become an essential lifeline for developing communities. mHealth uses mobile devices to enhance the practice of public health, providing information, facilitating consultation and supplementing care, all through a phone.
In developing nations, where mobile phones are often accessible despite misconceptions, mHealth is proving to be part of the solution to the maternal health crisis. From text messages educating mothers on what to expect when they’re expecting to apps assisting medical professionals in their quest to provide comprehensive care, mHealth is increasing access in life-saving ways.
Check out these eight apps and mobile-based services that are revolutionizing care in developing nations.
GiftedMom, a mobile health provider based in Africa, works with NGOs to provide free mobile services to expectant mothers and women with newborn children.
A combination of apps and informational text messages, GiftedMom provides a wide range of health services through mobile devices, some of which are donated to women in need of the service.
The app first launched in Cameroon, where more than 7,000 women die per year in pregnancy-related complications. To help curb maternal mortality rates in the country, GiftedMom subscribes pregnant women and new mothers to free text messages to educate them on prenatal care, vaccines and reproductive health. The messages also remind mothers of important pregnancy milestones and health services their newborns should be receiving.
More than 6,700 mothers currently use the app in Cameroon and Nigeria.
2. Zero Mothers Die
Zero Mothers Die provides small mobile phones to women in Africa — specifically Ghana, Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, and Zambia — at no cost, with the goal of curbing maternal health care inaccessibility.
The phones use SMS text messaging to provide women living in isolated areas with essential information for having a healthy pregnancy and birth. The short, digestible messages help empower women to be active in their own health care, while also giving them information they can pass along to women in their communities.
The phones come preloaded with calling minutes at no additional cost, which women can use to call local health care providers in the event of an emergency. Zero Mothers Die also uses mobile connectivity to help educate health care workers through a partner app, increasing their knowledge as well as improving their role in the care of pregnant women.
Maternal and infant mortality rates in Myanmar are significantly higher than those in neighboring nations — and the app maymay is helping address it. The free app sends out three tailored health alerts every week to pregnant women, providing tips on having a successful, healthy pregnancy.
The app provides a wide array of tips — such as nutritional advice, explanations of early signs and symptoms of pregnancy, and recommendations for safe baby items — catered to a user’s stage in pregnancy. The app also allows pregnant women to find doctors in their area, sorting by specialty and medical institution.
4. Safe Delivery
Developed by the Maternity Foundation, the Safe Delivery app provides simple instructions to health workers in remote areas on how to assist with non-routine births. The app hopes to strengthen the quality of care and reduce maternal and newborn mortality rates by increasing a birthing attendant’s knowledge in times of crisis.
First launched in Ethiopia and Ghana, the Safe Delivery uses animated videos to provide instruction to health workers, focusing on what to do when faced with birthing complications, like a newborn who isn’t breathing or a prolonged labor.
The app also has flashcards, so an attendant can self-assess their knowledge outside of emergency situations. Safe Delivery is available in English and regional languages, breaking access barriers with tailored narration.
MAMA, or the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, created an app of the same name that delivers free health messages to new and expectant mothers in Bangladesh, South Africa, India and Nigeria. Women receive stage-based, culturally sensitive messages two to three times per week, which helps empower mothers with the health knowledge they are often denied.
The messages address three main areas important to women throughout their experience with motherhood: warning signs, reminders and encouragement. That last point is especially notable: Along with health-based tips and information, users receive affirmation that they are succeeding as mothers — and that can be just as important as hard facts.
6. Mobile Midwife
To provide increased health care access to women in Ghana, the Mobile Midwife app utilizes text messages and pre-recorded voice messages to help spread information to pregnant women, new mothers and their families. The app’s messages are time-specific, providing information relevant to women that hinges on their stage in motherhood.
Mobile Midwife is also used in conjunction with a Nurses’ Application, which medical providers use to collect patient data and upload records to a centralized database. Through the application, providers can track patient care and identify those who are due for medical services.
Auxiliary nurse midwives (ANM) are women who help to fill the gap in health care access between expectant mothers in developing nations and medical facilities. Responsible for tasks like immunizations, referrals and emergency assessment, an ANM serves as the point person for maternal health care — and an app called Suyojana is helping ANMs along the way.
Suyojana serves as a way for ANMs to keep up with their medical knowledge, ensuring accurate assessment and health monitoring. The app is a “mobile-based clinical-decision support system” that provides guidance on care throughout all stages of motherhood.
It also houses medical records, with ANMs recording their patient’s status within the app. That information is then transferred to databases where it can be saved and analyzed, which helps medical professionals identify regional trends and improve how they serve specific communities.
8. Safe Pregnancy and Birth
— Ethiopia MNCHProject (@ETMNCH) July 31, 2015
An award-winning app for expectant mothers in developing countries, Safe Pregnancy and Birth provides maternal health knowledge to both expectant mothers and health care providers. The app focuses on four major points: data collection, patient monitoring, health education or appointment reminders.
Available in both English and Spanish, the Safe Pregnancy and Birth app relays information to pregnant women on how to stay healthy during pregnancy, how to recognize prenatal health concerns and what to do in an emergency situation. It also has step-by-step instructions for community health workers, explaining how to perform procedures such as taking blood pressure, treating someone in shock and stopping bleeding post-birth.
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