How smartphones are reducing infant and maternal mortality rates in rural Pakistan

Categories: Cause days, Project impact
09 May 2017

A group of women sit crosslegged around a run.  Photo credit: Feed the Minds

To mark the recent International Day of the Midwife we share a story of how one grant holder’s use of smartphone technology is reducing infant and maternal mortality rates in rural Pakistan.

Keeping a woman and her baby safe in pregnancy and childbirth continues to be a challenge for many developing countries, especially among rural communities.

In the Badin district of Pakistan’s Sindh province most of the villages are in remote areas, with little or no real infrastructure connecting them to towns where health centres are located:

  • it can take 3 hours to reach the nearest health clinic, and as a result women do not attend pre-natal clinics for check-ups
  • some women are not allowed to travel outside of their villages alone and husbands are often unwilling to escort their wives, as this could result in them losing a day’s pay
  • babies are normally born at home with the assistance of an elder woman from the village without any formal training

100 villages are now benefiting from a UK Aid Direct funded programme, focused on improving maternal health and infant survival rates.
Since the implementation of the 2.5-year health education project, communities have seen:

  • infant mortality rates down from 106/1,000 per live birth to 40/1,000 per live birth (according to the Sindh Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2014)
  • maternal mortality rates down from 314/100,000 to 100/100,000 per live birth (according to the Maternal Mortality Ratio in Sindh)

So, how has this been achieved and how significant a role has technology played in this?

UK-based international development organisation Feed the Minds (link opens to charity’s website, in a new window), partnered with Pakistan-based NRDP (National Rural Development Program) to establish 100 women’s health committees with 700 members in the area.
Over 100 local women are now trained to become safe, community birth attendants, enabling them to help their immediate families, as well as pass their knowledge on to others.

The community birth attendants are paired up with doctors from health centres. Using smartphones, the doctors provide practical and emotional support for both the attendant and mothers-to-be – working as a cost-effective method for the organisation to achieve widespread local healthcare.

“Using SMS messaging, trained doctors are able to relay messages and instructions to community birth attendants in rural locations, providing them with vital information, whilst supporting mothers during childbirth,” advised Albha Bowe, Programme Director from Feed the Minds.

“Aside from communication via text, the phones are also used to store and access important records about the mother’s health.  If a situation or symptoms are presented that are outside of the training of the community birth attendant, they can seek medical advice from the doctor, using the mobile phone service. The doctor then provides feedback on whether they feel the condition can be resolved at home or the individual should be referred to the local hospital.”

Khalida Bibi, a Community Birth Attendant said:
“I have performed 82 deliveries and referred 23 complicated cases to health facilities – saving 7 lives through this smartphone referral mechanism. I have also provided counselling to 371 pregnant women on nutrition, care, family planning, vaccination and hygiene issues.”

To find out more about the work of Feed the Minds, visit their website (link opens in new window to charity’s website).

Woman smiling sitting crosslegged. Photo credit Feed the Minds charity, UK Aid Direct grant holder