“The most important part of strengthening quality of care is training of health care workers,” explains Anna Frellsen, Maternity Foundation’s CEO in a recent exchange with NotImpossibleNow.com. To that end, the foundation has turned to Indiegogo.com (one of the first Danish NGO’s to do so) to crowdfund the Safe Delivery App that utilizes short animated videos to train and instruct healthcare workers in order to improve their caregiving and birth attendant skills. The app was developed in collaboration with leading scientists from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Southern Denmark.
“We work with the communities to empower and mobilize more women to seek care during pregnancy and at the health facilities to strengthen the quality of care received,” explains Frellsen. The absolute key in reducing the number of maternal deaths, Frellsen contends, “is actually training health care workers to make sure that they have the essential skills to handle a delivery.” In Sub-Saharan Africa – where the Maternity Foundation is testing the app prototype—it’s both expensive and difficult to provide training for frontline health workers, who are often stationed alone in remote areas.
Enter the mobile phone revolution: There are more than 600 million mobile phone users in Africa and the number of users continues to grow exponentially. While remote health clinics may not have electricity or running water, the health workers will still often have access to mobile phones. Tapping into the accessibility of mobile phones has the potential to improve maternal health on a global scale.
The easy-to-understand animated videos (not contingent on advanced literacy skills) in some ways help overcome the barriers of traditional training programs. To date there are three animated instruction films; the Indiegogo campaign will fund six more films that can also be used as a reference tool during clinical work. (The six additional films deal with major birth complications). The Safe Delivery App can be pre-installed on a phone so network or Internet connections are not required for viewing. “When completed, we will make the Safe Delivery App available as a free open-source tool to be used in partnership with NGOs, governments and major organizations across sub-Saharan Africa,” explains Frellsen.
The organization has already partnered with the Red Cross and the Ethiopian Midwives Association; the app is currently going through a clinical trial in Ethiopia. In 2015, Frellsen expects the Maternity Foundation to begin pilot testing and later next year, the app will roll out as a free download in cooperation with international NGOs and local governments. Once in use, it will be updated and adapted to reflect its real-world efficacy.
The Maternity Foundation opted for an Indiegogo campaign in order to reinforce the global problem of maternal and infant mortality and to position the organization on an international platform. Worldwide, there are more than 289,000 maternal and three million newborn deaths annually. Almost 90 percent of these deaths are preventable, contends the Maternity Foundation; the training and skills of birth attendants are the linchpins to reversing these deaths.
So far the response to the Safe Delivery App has been very positive. “It is fantastic to hear the feedback from the Ethiopian health workers who are currently using the app as part of our research trial. They tell us that they are especially pleased with the graphic, explanatory nature of the videos and the easy navigation set-up,” Frellsen relates. In essence, the app can empower caregivers to help women during difficult labor and subsequent complications. She adds, “One of the health workers even called the app her ‘new best friend’”