App aims to reduce maternal mortality

By Cathleen O'Grady
Johannesburg, 23 Jul 2013

Hesperian Health Guides has developed a smartphone application designed to guide pregnant women, midwives and health workers in rural areas through a safe pregnancy and delivery.

Hesperian Health Guides produces health information that is designed to be easily understood and shared, and to reach people in parts of the world with limited access to healthcare.

The Safe Pregnancy and Birth application aims to address the more than 350 000 annual pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths reported by the United Nations, as well as the increased risk of child mortality among those infants and children who have lost their mothers.

According to the UN, the dangers associated with pregnancy and childbirth are largely preventable and can be hugely mitigated by access to basic healthcare and information. While developing countries may have a maternal mortality risk as high as one in 30, developed countries with adequate healthcare have a risk as low as one in 5 600. The Hesperian Health Guides app aims to inform community members acting as midwives and health workers who may have had insufficient training, or who currently have limited access to information, in order to lower the maternal mortality rate in the developing world.

Information in the app includes topics such as how to recognise danger signs during pregnancy and delivery; what to do when danger signs arise; when it is necessary to refer a woman for emergency care; as well as step-by-step explanations of treatments and tests, such as taking blood pressure. It also includes information for pregnant women on healthy behaviours during pregnancy.

The app is currently available in English and Spanish, for iPhone and Android, with development under way to make it available in more languages and for lower-end phones. It has seen more than 24 000 downloads, in 155 countries, and has been recognised as a winner of the "She Will Innovate" competition run by Intel and Ashoka Changemakers, which awards innovations that equip girls and women with life-improving digital technologies. The $10 000 prize money will go into further development of the app, says Hesperian Health Guides.

Although this is the first app developed by the organisation, it provides many other digital health tools, including its popular "Where There Is No Doctor" guide, available as an e-book, and its growing HealthWiki resource, which presents well-researched health information in multiple languages, and which is suited for slow and intermittent Internet connections.