Tackling maternal mortality with mobility

In Kenya, almost 6,000 women die annually during childbirth. Infant mortality is approximately 488 for every 100,000 live births. Effective health communication would raise awareness and equip communities with skills to reduce health risks. Alfred O. Akwala, researcher at the Technical University of Kenya, has investigated the reasons why pregnant women avoid using health care facilities.

“Usually women turn to a friend or a relative to seek advice while they are pregnant or have young children. The use of mobile health apps can make a difference because they help the patients to overcome the different obstacles”, says Akwala.

Lack of transports create difficulties in getting to a health clinic. Some make the effort but when they arrive, they have to queue for hours due to lack of resources. By providing free maternity health services, the government hopes more women will attend health care facilities. Another strategy is the Beyond Zero campaign.

“It aims at reducing maternal mortality by having mobile clinics closer to where people live.  Even though the maternity health care is for free, there can still be informal or hidden costs. The mobile clinics have also been met with suspicion from certain communities”, Akwala remarks.

Some women avoid health clinics because health workers ask patients intrusive and non-relevant questions. By using a mobile health app, women can communicate with a health care worker via text or voice messages. Sixty five percent of Kenya’s population have a mobile phone.

Researcher Alfred O. Akwala. Photo: Susanna Dukaric.

Traditionally, women in rural Kenya give birth at home because of ceremonies after the birth of a child. Moreover, cultural practices in the North Eastern Kenya do not allow male nurses to deliver children. As a male researcher, Alfred O. Akwala was met by suspicion by the women he interviewed.

“Childbirth is considered to be a ‘woman’s affair’ in Kenya. They asked: Why would you be interested in childbirth? ”, he says.

“Advances in technology enable patients to receive a diagnosis and a treatment plan without leaving their homes. Analyzing data collected from mobile health apps also improves decision and policymaking”, continues Akwala.

Alfred O. Akwala presented his paper 'Moving health campaigns to new horizons: a paradigm shift towards digital health care' at the Nordic Africa Days.

Facts and more reading

Africa has a young and rapidly growing population. Currently the second most populated continent in the world with over 1 billion people, it may have 4 billion inhabitants by the end of the century, more than one third of humanity.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, translating to about 585,000 women losing lives each year due to childbirth related complications.

 Reports from the World Health Organization

The African Regional Health Report 2014

State of health financing in the African Region

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