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Impact of Modern Technology on Global Maternal Health

Rose Martin Rose Martin , 4/17/2018
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According to the World Health Organization, globally around 830 women die each day due to complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these maternal deaths are attributed to developing or underdeveloped countries where the access to good-quality antenatal care and skilled medical practitioners is limited.

The good news is that technology is transforming the field of maternal and newborn health (MNH) across the globe. This is evident through a recent UNICEF report which shares that between the years 1990 and 2015 the maternal mortality has reduced by 44 percent. Technology is being increasingly used to reduce the problems associated with pregnancy and improve the overall maternal health outcomes.

Here are six ways in which technology is improving the global maternal health scenario.

1. Reducing Maternal and Neonatal Mortality Rate

Health technology, comprising of medical equipment, supplies, and procedures, is enabling maternal healthcare providers to manage pregnancy-related complications that increase the risk of mortality. 75 percent of pregnancy complications, namely profuse bleeding after childbirth, infections, and high blood pressure, are preventable if adequate healthcare solutions are accessible to child-bearing women.

The introduction of new technology-based solutions such as drugs for management of postpartum hemorrhage and infections, manual vacuum aspiration, pre-eclampsia detection kits, eclampsia management, partograms, and vacuum extraction can help healthcare professionals manage pregnancy-related complications in a better manner.

For instance, undetected pre-eclampsia is the second-leading cause of maternal deaths globally. Jhpiego, a non-profit organization, introduced a revolutionary technology (self-test pre-eclampsia pen) that can detect this complication early, reducing the incidence of associated maternal morbidity and mortality.

2. Controlling Infections and Epidemics

Infections are fairly common during and after childbirth, especially in emerging countries with a dearth of hygienic and quality maternal care.

Health technologies such as telehealth platforms and mobile applications are being used to increase awareness in this field and prevent and manage infections and epidemics effectively. A report published by the Center for Technology Innovation shares how mobile technology can be used to improve maternal health and fight infections caused by the Ebola virus.

According to this report, mobile technologies such as mHealth play a crucial role in bringing medical expertise to frontline health workers, offering disease surveillance reports, tracking epidemic outbreaks, and improving the way infections and other complications are diagnosed and treated.

3. Improving Maternal Health Awareness

The improved mobile phone penetration and network coverage globally, are being efficiently exploited by healthcare firms to deliver quality services, especially in emergency situations.

Pregnancy-related mobile applications are being used to offer information that is useful to patients. For instance, pregnancy applications such as What to Expect and The Bump, offer monthly fitness tips which can go a long way in maintaining maternal and neonatal health.

Numerous maternal-health-related websites too are loaded with patient information, illustrations, and videos that educate and empower patients and their caregivers, reducing the risk of pregnancy complications.

4. Improving Remote Patient Monitoring

Technological advances have enabled healthcare professionals to monitor their patients from afar. For instance, wearable biosensors allow remote monitoring of the blood pressure, the nutritional intake, the fetal heart rate, and other health parameters, improving the quality of prenatal care and the pregnancy outcomes.

Thus, technology has changed the way patients’ physiological parameters are monitored, helping healthcare professionals to detect complications at an early stage and reducing the hospitalization costs associated with them.

5. Offering Safe Abortion Options

Women with unwanted pregnancies often resort to unsafe measures to terminate pregnancies either due to lack of services or social taboos related to abortion. Globally 21.6 million women experience unsafe abortions each year causing complications such as hemorrhages, infections, incomplete abortions, and injuries to the genital tract and the internal organs.

Numerous healthcare providers across the world are now using the telemedicine technology to offer a safer alternative to women who wish to terminate their pregnancy without a surgery. These practitioners can determine their patients’ complications by going through the ultrasound and laboratory reports and offer expert advice without the need for personal examination.

Thus, telemedicine-based services are offering a safe and effective option for medical abortions  especially in areas with limited access to expert medical services.

6. Improving Pre-Natal and Post-Natal Care

Frontline health workers often find it challenging to work with complex referral systems and are unable to identify emergency symptoms in high-risk patients. A few innovative Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools are changing the manner in which data is stored and managed, enabling the frontline team to offer better pre-natal and post-natal care to their patients.

For instance, CommCare is a mobile data collection platform introduced by Dimagi that enables healthcare providers to build their own mobile applications.

Using such open source mobile health platforms, frontline health workers can track and support patients with online registration forms, checklists, SMS reminders, and other aspects of patient management. Therefore, healthcare providers are able to remind their patients of a pre-natal check-up that is due and educate them about maternal care in a better manner.