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ICTs – important tools to reducing maternal and child mortality

The former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, few years ago, convened a meeting of health leaders and experts from over 30 countries to set a global plan of action to ensure that no woman, newborn, child or adolescent dies from preventable causes by 2030.

The meeting identified interventions needed to accelerate progress towards improving the lives of women, children and adolescents.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG-3, sets the stage for global innovations and inclusive interventions for collective and focused actions towards the promotion of good health and well-being of children and men.

Ghana’s efforts at achieving good health and well-being must necessarily focus on curbing perennial maternal and child mortality at both the institutional and community levels.

Though maternal health care has improved over the past 20 years in Ghana, the pace has rather been slow. There is the need to put in extra efforts and interventions to enable Ghana to achieve the SDG-3 target of good health and well-being.

According to the Ghana Health Service 2015 Report, institutional maternal mortality rate has reduced from 216 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 164 per 100,000 live births in 2010, a difference of 110 to a target of 54 per 100,000 in 2015. GHS hopes that maternal and child mortality will further reduce based on the Government’s new intervention such as free maternal health services, re-positioning of family planning, and increased training of midwives and partnership with development agencies.

In response to this, Savana Signatures, an Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), piloted the Technology for Maternal Health (T4MH) project for a number of years with the support of STAR-Ghana.

The project uses ICT tools to make maternal health information available and accessible to pregnant women living in hard to reach communities in Ghana. The two-year period of T4MH implementation did not only contribute immensely to the reduction of maternal and under-five infant mortality in the Northern Region of Ghana, but also empowered health professionals with the skills and knowledge to use ICT tools, including mobile phones, to disseminate vital maternal and child health information to pregnant women and new mothers at a distance.

By December 2014, maternal and under-five deaths reduced in T4MH communities and health facilities aside an increase in skilled delivery, ante-natal care and post-natal care attendant rates. This further contributed to the reduction of maternal mortality in Northern Region from 115 in 2007 to as low as 19 deaths by December 2014.

The T4MH project was initially implemented in four districts but later expanded to cover 10 districts with the highest incidence of maternal and infant mortality. Savana Signatures has been working closely with the Ghana Health Service for years now using ICTs to promote good maternal and child health practices while building the skills and knowledge of community nurses and midwives in the use of ICTs for the dissemination of these vital information.

It is, however, surprising to note that maternal deaths in the Northern Region increased from 19 in 2014 to 95 deaths in 2015 according to the Northern Regional Health Directorate of the Ghana Health Service. These deaths were blamed on insufficient and aging midwives.

Maternal and infant mortality are dark and shameful blots in human history. Under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), progress was made particularly in reducing maternal and infant deaths captured under the Goals 4 and 5.

Innovation and expansion of T4MCH

Savana Signatures, in partnership with Salasan Consulting Inc. and with funding from Global Affairs Canada in 2016, re-launched the Technology for Maternal Health (T4MCH) Project, which was expanded from 10 health facilities in the Northern Region to 33 in nine districts in Northern, Upper West and Volta regions.

The new T4MCH, according to the Programme Manager, Rashid Abdul-Imoro, seeks to contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality in Ghana.

In May, 2017, all the 33 health facilities were presented with ICT equipment such as mobile phones, laptops, projectors, project screens, pointers and mini public-address systems. These tools were meant to facilitate maternal and child health promotion; by raising awareness on good maternal and child health practices through easy dissemination of vital information to pregnant and lactating mothers to keep them and their babies healthy.

Using mobile messaging technology, T4MCH delivers weekly SMSs and Interactive Voice Response messages about maternal and child health, nutrition, ante-natal care and post-natal care attendance, healthy living and new born care for pregnant women and new mothers in their preferred language through their mobile phones.

Also, about 199 health professionals from T4MCH health facilities were trained in the use of ICT tools to create and package multimedia power-point presentations about maternal and child health for community sensitisation. These trainings were meant to ease data management, reporting and filing of patients’ information using the ICT tools.

The T4MCH’s Knowledge Sharing Session provides an opportunity for direct interactions between women, men and health professionals on maternal and child health issues at the community and health facility levels.

As explained by Karen, a health professional at Kalpohini Health Centre located in the Sagnarigu District, “Learning to create power-point presentations will help us to easily communicate to mothers and families. Now I can put up pictures of breastfeeding mothers to help explain the importance of good attachment and exclusive breastfeeding to the mothers.”

The T4MCH is using various innovative approaches including the deployment of ICTs to halt unnecessary maternal and child mortality in Ghana. Aside this, a research has been commissioned to unearth the real causes of maternal and child mortality in Northern, Upper West and Volta regions of Ghana where mortalities are high.

ICTs, therefore, will strengthen information dissemination and keep pregnant women and entire communities up to date on positive pregnancy and child care practices. ICTs provide convenient means of sharing and receiving information and will help to overcome some cultural practices that prevent pregnant women delivering at health facilities, the major contributory factor to maternal and child mortality in the country.

Source: GNA