World Health Day: From scythes to smartphones

Apr 7, 2016

What do you use your smartphone for? Keeping an eye on your social media accounts? Taking selfies? Did you ever think your smartphone may be able to save the lives of women and children during childbirth? In Pakistan, that’s exactly what we’re using them for.

Pakistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Half of women suffer from anaemia and haemorrhagic complications at pregnancy and childbirth increase the risk of mortality. In Badin District, Sindh Province, where our project is based, 33.9% people live below the poverty line. The maternal mortality rate is very high, with 275 for every 100,000 live births. In our research before launching the project we learnt that general understanding of the necessary care and hygiene required to ensure safer pregnancies and child birth was very low in this area; shockingly, we even learned that scythes had been used to operate on women during pregnancy.

However, the situation for mothers is changing for the better. Feed the Minds is working with our partner, National Rural Development Programme (NRDP), to increase access to health services and improve health education for mothers in the district. These changes are improving the quality of maternal and child health care and saving lives in the process.

Technology is playing a vital role in this.

So far, the project has equipped 50 women with a basic form of midwifery training and is working to provide a further 50 women with the same skills. These women are now the first point of contact to women in their communities, providing up-to-date antenatal, postnatal, family planning and safe child birth services. Crucially, this training includes the use of smartphones to link the women with professional medical staff to help monitor high-risk cases of pregnancies and deliveries.

A healthy and happy mother and child.
A healthy and happy mother and child.

After their training, each woman is given a smartphone that links her remote and isolated community with advice from professional doctors and nurses located in more centralised areas. If the mother or new-born baby enters difficulties during the birth that require the help of a fully qualified medical practitioner, they are now just one text message away. This way, the community midwives can gain instantaneous expert advice as to how to continue their support of the mother and child.

The use of technology in this way has taken off with great success, and saved the lives of many women and children. Almost all of the community midwives are using text messaging once every two weeks, when their own skills are not quite enough to ensure safe delivery of the child or full provision for the mother. Over the past year, around 600 messages have been sent to seek support from a healthcare professional.

Almost every one of these messages was responded to by a fully qualified doctor or nurse, who was then able to advise what best next steps to take, whether it was practical suggestions for the remainder of the labour, or the instruction to take the mother for a referral as soon as possible.

The project has now helped hundreds of women, both in the ante- and postnatal stages of pregnancy and birth. We are delivering babies more safely than ever, and ensuring mothers get the support they need in a timely manner. Since these services were established there have been no further maternal deaths.

It’s amazing to see how the addition of simple technology can make such a wonderful impact on the lives of others. We are now looking at ways in which we can use solar energy charging to support the sustainability of this in further areas.

At Feed the Minds we are devoted to learning, growing together and education. It’s inspiring to see how technology can bring people closer together, and make tangible differences to people’s health and wellbeing, no matter where they are in the world.

NRDP - Pakistan (2)
The benefits of healthy women and newborns spreads right throughout the community.