There are now more people in Africa with access to a mobile phone than people with access to water and sanitation. The current tele-revolution holds a giant potential for using new approaches – such as the newly launched The Safe Delivery App – to save lives among pregnant and birthing women.
Most of the 800 women who die every day during pregnancy and childbirth could have been saved through access to skilled health workers. That is why it’s so important to use the technological possibilities in training health workers. Today, there are more than 600 million mobile phone users in Africa and the number of users continues to grow explosively.
The Danish NGO Maternity Foundation and our partners Copenhagen University and University of Southern Denmark are tapping into this ongoing mobile phone trend with our new mobile learning tool, The Safe Delivery App.
The Safe Delivery App features simple, animated videos that provide instruction for health workers in handling childbirth complications, for example if the mother begins to bleed after giving birth or the newborn is not breathing. It comes both in English and local languages. The app is an example of how mobile phones can help overcome traditional training out-reach barriers such as illiteracy and poor infrastructure. Also, it shows that the mobile phone can be a tool of empowerment for health workers.
“After I got this mobile app, I have learned a lot more about deliveries. Before, it was difficult to put my education and knowledge into practice, but now I feel confident about doing my work. By increasing our knowledge, we will be confident in doing our work in the future”, said Meseret Mitiku, one of the 78 Ethiopian health extension workers, who had been using the app for a 12-month period as part of a clinical trial.
Internationally, there are numerous pilot projects within mobile health, but still very few solutions that have been scaled up. In addition, there is a lack of evidence for what works and what doesn’t work. For that reason, a premise for The Safe Delivery App has been that we should first ensure evidence that it works – and then scale up.
Recently, the app has undergone a clinical trial in Ethiopia. The final results will be published at the end of 2015, but data show that the app can significantly increase the ability of a health worker to prevent life-threatening childbirth complications. Specifically, the ability of health workers to handle postnatal bleeding and to resuscitate a newborn more than doubled after 12 months of using the app.
Going forward, The Safe Delivery App will be made available for free to the health sector and NGOs in low-income countries. In partnership with implementing partners in each country, the app will be thoroughly tested and evaluated when it is rolled out. So far, Maternity Foundation has entered partnerships with the Danish Red Cross and Marie Stopes International. They will use the app in their health programs in Guinea and Tanzania respectively.
It is our hope that mobile health solutions will increasingly be considered as a tool of empowerment that can save lives and improve maternal health. Multi-stakeholder platforms such as Midwives4All are critical for bringing together partners and thus ensure that new tech-based solutions get into the hands of health workers.
By Anna Frellsen, CEO of Maternity Foundation