Strengthening eHealth systems to reduce maternal and infant mortality

A mother holding her childIn much of the developing world, women unnecessarily suffer higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity — but most of the causes of sickness or death affecting mothers and infants are easily preventable. The Strengthening Equity through Applied Research Capacity in eHealth (SEARCH) cohort of projects seeks to strengthen the evidence base on how eHealth/mHealth (mobile health) can be integrated into health systems to increase equity, improve governance and accountability, and strengthen the health system as a collection of interdependent parts. This year SEARCH saw numerous achievements and good results in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.

IDRC’s initial modest investment in a pilot study of 15 health centres in Peru is experiencing an unprecedented scale up by the Ministry of Health. The IDRC-funded WawaRed health information system for maternal health, which currently has 18,372 patients registered, will be extended to 350 health centres across the country. This includes 20 health centres in the Amazon regions of Cajamarca and Loreta, where there have been reports of the Zika virus.

WawaRed works to ensure that women in Peru and their health-care providers have the information they need to make pregnancy and childbirth safer by standardizing, collecting, and sharing data using a single electronic health record system. Text message reminders of appointments and voice messages in local languages spoken by indigenous women provide accurate, timely, and trusted advice to make the best decisions on care. Doing so means the right information reaches the most vulnerable groups and it improves the integration of health information systems across the country.

In the rural district of Nouna in Burkina Faso, regular access to health services is crucial for pregnant women and for people living with HIV. However, reaching these vulnerable populations can pose a major challenge. The Mos@n project, part of the SEARCH initiative, leveraged the widespread use of mobile phones to monitor patients and their use of healthcare services in 26 villages. The mobile phone-based system — with content in five local languages — in addition to the training of midwives and engagement with national and district policymakers, has resulted in near universal access (97.5%) for a population of 330,000 in the district. The project and its results are being drawn on as a case study for the national eHealth strategy, and the Ministry of Health is keen to scale up the project from five to all 19 health centres in the Nouna district — and potentially beyond to neighbouring districts.

In Vietnam’s mountainous Thai Nguyen province, 95% of the 820 underserved women belonging to ethnic minorities who registered with the SEARCH-supported mMom system reported greater access to maternal and child health information since its launch in July 2014. The project extended the reach of critical health information through timely SMS and interactive voice messages. The mMom system was transferred to the provincial health department where plans are already underway to scale it up province-wide.

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