5 Inventions Created To Prevent The Epidemic Of Maternal Mortality Around The World

Maternal mortality is a major healthcare issue globally. According to the World Health Organization, over 300,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications as of statistics shared in 2015. They also say nearly all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, meaning many of them could have been preventable.

While 99% of the world’s maternal deaths occur in the developing world, the developed world is certainly not one to overlook, especially here in the United States. A deep dive into this issue by NPR and Pro Publica recently found that more American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising.

A similarity in this research along with the WHO’s assessment of the problem in the developing world was the lack of resources, as well as funding. In the US, federal and state funding show only 6 percent of block grants for “maternal and child health” actually go to the health of mothers.

It should also be noted that the problem is compounded for black women in America, who are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to a leading advocacy organization Black Mamas Matter. In the case of women of color, the added issue of race and institutionalized discrimination makes accessing crucial healthcare and knowledge problematic.

More awareness is key, and taking monumental steps forward in our health policies on a global scale will help turn the tide. Sadly, there is often a lot of opposition to implementing progressive policies, as religious and ideological stigma can become powerful barriers to the wellbeing of women’s reproductive healthcare.

With the Trump administration’s implementation of an expanded Global Gag Rule (effectively cutting off $8.8 billion in funding worldwide), comes the reality that it could affect & increase maternal mortality rates greatly. This is why innovation and focus from the non-profit and private sector are an important and powerful piece of the puzzle to solving the maternal mortality problem globally.

In the developing world, we are seeing a number of exciting innovations being introduced that all address this problem. Here are just five products that been been invented to help women in the delivery room avoid potential complications:

1. The Pink Clutch Purse Helping Women Deliver Safely:

Imagine giving birth without the help of sterile tools, a doctor, nurse or midwife.

This is the experience of nearly half of women giving birth in low-income countries, and it often leads to infection, one of the leading causes of maternal and infant deaths. Infection often occurs during or after childbirth when sterile supplies are not available at the right place and time. The Clean Birth Kit in a purse, created by Zubaida Bai, the founder of Ayzh, changes that. The kit, called “janma” (which means “birth” in Sanskrit) is designed to prevent infection at the time of childbirth.

The basic $3 kit contains simple items to provide the “six cleans” of childbirth recommended by the World Health Organization, ensuring a safe and sterile delivery (gloves, soap, surgical scalpel, blood-absorbent underpad, umbilical cord clamp, and baby wiping cloth). The kit comes packaged in a biodegradable jute bag that mothers reuse as a purse.

For some mothers, it is the first purse they have ever owned, which remain a symbol of dignity and cleanliness in her home for years to come. Use of clean birth kits have been associated with a 57% reduction in newborn death in India. To date, they have provided 600,000 women and newborns with Clean Birth Kits through sales, distribution and training with 400 partners in 20 countries.

Committed to women’s empowerment on all levels, Ayzh also provides training to healthcare workers, engages women beneficiaries in product development, and hires local Indian women to assemble and package Ayzh kits, allowing them to develop a stable income. Building on demand from existing customers and women beneficiaries, Ayzh is now expanding its product line to include kits addressing essential newborn care, postpartum health, and menstrual hygiene.

By engaging women to address maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, Ayzh reaches more women at more than one point in her life, building a trusted brand for inter-generational well being. Now more than ever, women’s health is an urgent need around the globe. With their eyes on the future of women’s health, their vision is to impact one billion women and babies by 2030 with a clean birth and beyond.

2. The App Equipping Community Healthcare Workers Diagnose & Treat Patients:

When talking about maternal health, it’s important to talk about the link between healthy moms, healthy kids, and healthy communities. While maternal mortality affects more than 300,00 each year, almost six million children die each year before their fifth birthday — many of them from preventable illnesses that could be treated for the price of a cup of coffee.

The problem is that one billion people in the developing world lack access to basic health care. This disproportionately affects women and limits their opportunities and ability to care for their families. Living Goods has a solution for delivering basic health care that helps moms and babies not only survive, but also thrive. They recruit, train, equip, and manage a network of primarily female health entrepreneurs — called Community Health Promoters — who go door to door supporting moms and kids, diagnosing and treating illnesses like malaria and pneumonia, and selling life-changing products.

Living Goods equips every Community Health Promoter with a cloud-based app that enables them to accurately assess, diagnose, treat, and follow up with families. Community Health Promoters do not work as volunteers or salaried staff. They are empowered entrepreneurs who earn an income by distributing life-changing products and services in their community.

Living Goods leverages the power of human connection to ensure every woman has access to the knowledge and resources she needs to raise a healthy family. Moms rest assured that their Community Health Worker is just a phone call away. By combining proven health interventions, business principles, and mobile technology, they are improving health across the developing world while creating livelihoods for enterprising women. The best part: it works! A randomized controlled study found that Living Goods decrease child deaths by 27% in areas that we serve.

3. The Software Platform Improving Pre-Natal & Post-Natal Care:

Many maternal and newborn health programs are built on a foundation that relies heavily on access to clinics or hospitals, particularly when it comes to referrals for high-risk patients. This burdens Community Health Workers (CHWs) who often encounter difficulties in identifying emergency symptoms and working within inadequate and complex referral systems.

CommCare, built by Dimagi, is a software platform that enables anyone to build mobile apps. CommCare was built to support frontline workers at the last mile across all sectors. By replacing paper-based forms with mobile applications, frontline workers can utilize CommCare as a job aid to track and support clients with registration forms, checklists, SMS reminders, multimedia and much more. While our partners work across diverse sectors, our technology is predominantly used on healthcare projects today. They have worked on more maternal and newborn health projects than in any other sector, including 60+ projects globally.

With CommCare, community health workers (CHWs) are able to do their work more efficiently by supplementing or eliminating the need for paper records and providing them with a job aid that supports counseling, decision-making, and referrals for emergencies. Ultimately, this improves care for mothers and babies in need.

More than 60 studies have evaluated CommCare’s impact on low-resource settings. Among other findings, CommCare has been proven to increase:

  • The percentage of women who made at least three care visits before giving birth from 8% to 49.8%
  • The number of women visiting a healthcare facility within a week of delivery from 4% to 72.8%.
  • The number of women who start breastfeeding immediately after birth from 2% to 75.9%, and increase skin-to-skin care from 57.8% to 65.2%.
  • The use of modern methods of contraception from 4% to 43.3%.

For example, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) uses CommCare on a project in Uttar Pradesh, India, the most populous state in India and one that has some of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. CRS developed a CommCare app to help improve the delivery of community-level prenatal and postnatal care and support services. With CommCare, they were able to increase coverage of care by over 50 percent. In addition, there was a 41% increase in prenatal checkups.

4. Anti-shock Wetsuit For Astronauts Adapted To Prevent Hemorrhaging After Birth:

Postpartum hemorrhage kills more new mothers than any other cause, but this anti-shock garment can help save their lives. Accounting for about a quarter of all maternal deaths, although it is a killer, it is also one of the few obstetric complications with proven interventions.

PATH collaborated with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Safe Motherhood Program, Pathfinder International, and Blue Fuzion Group on the nonpneumatic antishock garment, a groundbreaking innovation that evolved from a technology originally developed by NASA for use on the space station.

The lightweight, neoprene device resembles the bottom half of a wetsuit—its five segments are wrapped around a mother’s legs, pelvis, and abdomen, then tightened with Velcro straps. The garment, called “nonpneumatic” because it does not use air, applies pressure to the lower part of the body, forcing blood to key organs including the heart, lungs, and brain.

Clinical trials by UCSF found a 50 percent decrease in deaths from severe obstetric hemorrhage when the antishock garment was used at primary care facilities. When fastened correctly, it can keep a mother alive until she can be transported to a facility with a higher level of care. Over the course of six years, the garment was successfully used on nearly 1,400 women in India and Nigeria by health providers trained by Pathfinder International.

While the World Health Organization recommended that the garment be used to address postpartum hemorrhage until appropriate care is available, it was too expensive and hard to procure for the countries that needed it most—and so PATH stepped in. To increase the garment’s availability, PATH focused on reducing the costs of production, from raw materials through manufacturing, transport, and delivery.

After establishing commercial partnerships in India and China, PATH were able to reduce the price four-fold while still maintaining the highest standards. The version produced in China, by Blue Fuzion Group, has received CE marking, a form of regulatory approval that certifies a product has met European Union consumer safety, health, or environmental requirements.

5. The Pen That Will Test For Pre-Eclampsia:

If left undetected, pre-eclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a high blood pressure disorder and the second-leading cause of maternal deaths in the developing world. In the United States, women are tested easily and routinely throughout their pregnancy for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia by a simple urine test costing several dollars. In the developing world, that cost is essentially unaffordable and the equipment necessary for the test is most often unavailable. This test, when perfected, will be “extremely affordable” and easily accessed by women in low-resource settings.

The pen, which allows for a reliable self-test for early detection of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, was created by Jhpiego, a a global health non-profit and Johns Hopkins University affiliate working to prevent the needless deaths of women and families. They were among the first recipients of a U.S. innovation award for work in the developing world in 2011, and received a $100,000 grant to work on their invention.

“The technology and its delivery have the potential to reach millions of underserved or unreached pregnant women. This test has the potential to reduce maternal deaths and morbidity. If we can inform women early that they are at risk for this complication, we can likely save their lives,” said Dr. Harshad Sanghvi, Vice President and Medical Director of Jhpiego, who is leading the work on the proteinuria self-test.

================================================================================

Maternal mortality rates are a huge problem that can be solved in innovative and effective ways. This is an issue we will continue to write about in our advocacy for better policies, reproductive healthcare and our mission to empower women and girls with knowledge to improve their lives.

Leave a Reply