Against the backdrop of Nigeria’s poor maternal health profile, the Catholic Medical Association of Nigeria, CMAN recently held its international scientific conference in Lagos, with the theme: Marshall Plan for Reducing Maternal Mortality in Nigeria”.
One of the resource persons was a US-based Nigerian Scientist and Information Technologist, Charles Asor, who spoke on “Using mHealth to Improve Maternal Health in Nigeria. After the conference, Hi-Tech cornered him to examine the prospects of leveraging Mobile Health technology in transforming the delivery of maternal health services that would help to reduce the increasing rate of maternal mortality in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Tell us what mHealth is all about.
mHealth is a self discipline that falls under information technology or eHealth. It concerns the use of mobile and wireless technologies to achieve some objectives. So, mHealth leverages wireless communications and other radio based communication technologies and also other technologies like mobile technology diagnosis devices, all which can be deployed to the backlines of healthcare workers, especially in the rural areas, to midwives and community based workers and have those systems fixed and send out information to patients and anchor points.
It can also be linked to major hospitals in the urban settings. With this system, information can be dispatched to midwives and other health workers from these major hospitals so that they can extend quality health care to those in the rural settings.
What opportunity does this hold for the Nigerian telecom market?
The interesting thing about this technology is that the opportunity in Nigeria is growing by the fact that Nigeria has one of the fastest growing teledensity rate in the world. Nigeria teledensity was 1.89 percent in 2002 but now 72.20 percent, representing about 4,000 percent increase. So, it creates an opportunity for what I call, disruptive innovation, leveraging local technologies to change power of incumbent.
As far as health is concerned, the power of incumbent needs to be disrupted to reduce the current rate of child and maternal mortality rate in Nigeria. It is estimated that about 45,000 Nigerian women die every year in complications related to healthcare. That translates to about 109 Nigerian women and girls dying ever day. We are second to India as the most dangerous place in the world where expectant mothers die like those in war time. We have the capacity to stop this. Mobile technology provides us the platform we can leverage to do this, using the high penetration rate we have in the country.
What are the likely ways to apply this technology?
It is to educate those in rural community through mass mobilization. You can also use it to enhance health care coordination management, using it as an engagement platform and making patients to understand that they are participants in their own care. Again, it can be used for clinical decision support, where specialists who are in urban centres based on reports they get from midwives make specific decisions that will help them prevent unnecessary health problems, that may refer them to cities, especially where there is poor road network.
Where and when has this technology tested?
mHealth pilots have been on in Ghana and Senegal, trying to reduce mother and child death with the use of mobile technology. This technology can be a great equalizer to the current issue we have in our system but if the solutions available are blindly applied, it will magnify the negative effects in the sense that if you adopt it wrongly, it makes those problem more pronounced.
So, to avoid this situation, I suggest that we adopt new models that are working within our system like the midwives training scheme. For any entity considering the adoption of this technology, it must do a clinical work flow, locate the clients, rethink them, know what you need before you can deploy the technology to make it more efficient. So, you need to do design work and establish Key Performance Index, KPI, which help you monitor, evaluate and anticipate results.
Maintenance culture is also required which is absent in Nigeria, leaving a stock pile of projects all over the country. The bottom line is that we can no longer watch and allow a vast majority of our people die of preventable cause of illness. It is time to act. I’m happy to have this platform to work with Catholic doctors. I’m confident my interaction will be able to strike a chord to bring ideas in terms of what services should be provided to provide quality healthcare to mothers and eventually turn around the trend of high maternal mortality in Nigeria.
By Emma Elebeke