MONROVIA, 1 January 2021 – Researchers at universities in Liberia, Ghana and the United States are exploring innovative uses of WhatsApp to ensure a safer childbirth experience for expectant mothers across Africa.
The partnership is aimed at anticipating and ensuring that expectant who need emergency procedures, like cesarean sections, do not miss out on this life-saving service.
In the pilot phase, researchers based at the University of Liberia, the University of Ghana and the University of Michigan will implement a WhatsApp platform for medical staff and community health workers across rural areas of Liberia to communicate with staff in better equipped hospitals.
The goal, according to Dr. Judy Lori of the University of Michigan, is to accelerate the referral and treatment of obstetric emergencies.
The accelerated process will ensure safer childbirths for expectant mothers in rural parts of Liberia who need “life-saving procedures like cesarean sections,” Dr. Lori added.
The application is already being tested at two hospitals and 20 clinics in Liberia’s Bong County, according to Dr. Bernice Dahn, Vice President and Academic Dean at the state-run University of Liberia.
“We are training community health assistants, to better identify obstetric emergencies and refer them on using WhatsApp to one of the referral hospitals which implement additional triage to decrease the decision-to-delivery time for women requiring cesarean section, as well as ensuring the expectant mothers are aware of and involved in the medical decionsis,” added Dr. Dahn.
With funding from the Grand Challenges program of the Bill and Melinda Foundation, the project could yield enormous benefits for Liberia which has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.
Maternal mortality in the West African country is 1,072 fatalities for every 100,000 births and 37 deaths for every 1,000 live births within the first 28 days, according to WHO and UNICEF data.
COVID-19 restrictions pertaining to curfews, lockdowns, transporation, the closure of some health centers and the reassignment of many health workers to attend to the pandemic, mean that expectant mothers are more likely, now than before, to risk death in giving birth.
Researchers on the project insist on explainin gone detail to all: cesarean sections will not be done by way of WhatsApp.
The platform will train community health assistants to watch for those signs shown by pregnant women who need to be quickly assigned to a referral hospital.