Across the remote, rural areas of the developing world, childbearing is fraught with danger. And when life-threatening complications arise, as they do — often unpredictably — women are simply too far to reach lifesaving care.
But more and more frequently, technology is paving the road to improved outcomes, even where few roads exist.
And mothers, especially those who are hard to reach stand to benefit most from an increasingly connected world, according to Alice Fabiano of Johnson & Johnson, which is partnering with UNFPA on a number of innovative projects. "Building roads and hospitals can take years, but right now we can reach mothers with mobile phones, simple and inexpensive computers and other technologies."
E-health is a game-changer
She predicted that mobile health will make leaps and bounds in next three to five years. "Mobile technologies will be integrated in the way you do your work and administer programmes on the ground, on how midwives talk to their clients, and how births and deaths are registered," she added.
Technology is changing the face of maternal health in several countries in Asia and Africa in multiple directions at an unprecedented pace. "From the use of mobile devices to facilitate and improve maternal health care and train midwives, to real time data recording, e-health is a game changer in improving healthcare access, delivery and quality of care," says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.
"With rapidly proliferating mobile technologies worldwide, and expanding network coverage across the developing world, change is happening faster than anyone could have imagined," he added. Costs are declining, as innovators continue to find new ways to bridge gaps in service, monitor results, get feedback and offer the right solutions specific to low-resource settings.
Launch of new e-learning modules
Three modules of a new e-learning programme are being launched this week at the Global Midwifery Symposium. These e-modules are designed for midwives and others with midwifery skills on key life-saving emergency care functions. "These modules will transform the way training is provided to frontline healthcare workers by improving access and by reinforcing right clinical decision making skills," said Geeta Lal, a midwifery adviser for UNFPA. They can be downloaded and used in settings without internet connectivity, she added.
The training will be provided using Intel's skoool™ platform. UNFPA and Jhpiego have developed the content for this training in partnership with Intel, the World Health Organization. Technical guidance and review to ensure quality, has been provided by the International Confederation of Midwives, the International Council of Nurses, and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics.
"These innovative e-modules will enable UNFPA to train thousands of additional healthcare workers using technology driven approaches, saving millions of dollars and enhancing access to quality services in ways untold," said Ms. Lal. The modules can be accessed any time, even in places without internet connectivity, she said, adding that a content creation toolkit will allow countries to create country-relevant training content in any language.
Delivering content on critical life-saving skills
The e-learning modules being released at the Symposium deal with three of the most life-threatening complications of childbearing: haemorrhage; prolonged and obstructed labour that at times can lead to fistula and preeclampsia, and eclampsia. It's estimated that enhancing skills of frontline providers in these three areas alone would help prevent roughly 50 per cent of all maternal deaths in countries with high burden of maternal mortality.
Each of the e-modules would train the health workers and midwives in assessing, diagnosing, understanding the correct treatment and evaluating some of the most life threatening conditions during pregnancy. The modules also contain built-in quizzes, which can help track the progress of the healthworkers in doing these training. These quizzes can be performed offline and the results transmitted via the web whenever the student goes online. Additional modules on life-saving skills, family planning and essential newborn care are in the works.
Two pilots of the training are being conducted in Ghana and Bangladesh. These countries, and many others throughout the developing world, are facing acute shortage of competent trainers and training facilities. The e-training aims to enhance access to quality training by larger numbers of health workers, thus addressing critical shortages of health workers.