Reaching the unreachable

June 12, 2013
Baby Monitor project meeting with Kenyan community health workers

By Alyssa Zamora
DGHI Communications Specialist

Who has a cell phone? That was the question DGHI adjunct faculty member Eric Green asked a group of nearly a dozen community health workers in rural Kenya today.

Everyone raised their hand.

It’s a sign of the times. People are more connected to one another. In some of the most impoverished communities, you might see a cell phone before you see a toilet. Because cell phones are much more prevalent in even some of the most resource-poor communities, they can be extremely powerful tools for reaching people -- who would otherwise be unreachable – in new ways.

As a continuation of his work in Nairobi, Green’s Baby Monitor mHealth project (recently featured on BBC) aims to reach more pregnant women to connect them with health care that is critical before, during and after delivery. Otherwise, the numbers show approximately 800 women die each day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. A woman living in a developing country may never seek medical care during her pregnancy. She may never set foot inside a health facility. Delivering her baby at home can be dangerous and even deadly.

The group of Kenyan community health care workers met with Green, Master of Science in Global Health student Amogh Karnik (read his blog) and undergraduate Mark Herzog at the Sinoko Dispensary to collectively brainstorm how they might use technology and a new referral and tracking system to track pregnant women and connect them with care.

At first, faces in the room seemed confused by the talk of technology, but soon turned to excitement as Green explained his vision for the project. I couldn’t help but notice the energy in the room by the end of the meeting; community health workers noticeably excited about the project and eager to get started.

The community health workers will be integral for reaching pregnant women and linking them with health care. The workers could use SMS text messages, email and mapping etc. on their cell phones to keep a record of the pregnant women they visit, their health, and how far along they are in the pregnancy. They can refer these women to local clinics where they can seek care regularly. By the time a woman goes into labor, she will be advised on what to do and she knows who to call to get to the nearest clinic. Phones can also be used to send women important information, such as the signs to look for should a complication occur, upcoming antenatal care appointments, child immunizations, etc.

Community health workers have an intimate connection with their villages and are an integral piece to the puzzle for the mHealth project.

The information age is beginning to infiltrate Africa, and it’s exciting to see how Baby Monitor is using technology to reach women during one of the most critical times of her life. It’s the kind of innovative work that happens at the Duke Global Health Institute.