News / Health

Pre-Natal Care Goes Mobile in Uganda

Joshua Okello demonstrates the WinSenga on a pregnancy mannequin in Kampala, Uganda, Nov. 29, 2013. Hilary Heuler for VOA.
Joshua Okello demonstrates the WinSenga on a pregnancy mannequin in Kampala, Uganda, Nov. 29, 2013. Hilary Heuler for VOA.
— In Uganda, three students have invented a smartphone application that can measure the heartbeat of a fetus. The device could improve prenatal care in rural clinics, and may even help prevent deaths during childbirth.
 
Joshua Okello’s first love was medicine. He studied to be a doctor before quitting to pursue his second love: technology. However, his interest in medicine never left him. Last year, Okello and two other students at Kampala’s Makerere University invented a smartphone application that they think could change the face of maternal health care in Africa.
 
The app is called a WinSenga - “senga” is the local term for an aunt who helps out during pregnancy. It consists of a tiny microphone in a plastic horn, based on the Pinard horn used by midwives for centuries.
The WinSenga alongside a traditional Pinard horn, used by midwives for centuries. November 29, 2013. Hilary Heuler for VOA NewsThe WinSenga alongside a traditional Pinard horn, used by midwives for centuries. November 29, 2013. Hilary Heuler for VOA News
x
The WinSenga alongside a traditional Pinard horn, used by midwives for centuries. November 29, 2013. Hilary Heuler for VOA News
The WinSenga alongside a traditional Pinard horn, used by midwives for centuries. November 29, 2013. Hilary Heuler for VOA News

“It’s a long cone-shaped device with a hole through it and a flat top. The midwife places it on the belly and listens in. Every midwife in this country has seen it, and that is what they are trained with,” said Okello.
 
The sound the horn picks up is fed into a smartphone that records and analyzes the fetal heartbeat. From there, said Okello, the WinSenga suggests different courses of action.
 
“Say you have a baby and we detect that the heartbeat is less than 120 beats per minute. That is a problem. So immediately, we pop up something that says ‘Please, we suggest that you could do A, B, C, D,’” explained Okello.
 
The device is not yet fully functional, but last year Okello and his partners won a $50,000 grant from Microsoft - the “Win” in WinSenga is short for Windows. They are now developing their app from a Microsoft-funded technology incubator at the university, set up to encourage Uganda’s nascent tech sector.
 
Having a mobile device could make it easier for health care workers to reach women in remote villages, said Okello. The final result should also be cheaper than the machines currently in use.
 
“We are getting a solution that’s cheaper, which means that more clinics are going to get it. If we could get Huawei or I don’t know who to give us phones for free, we are looking at a solution that’s less than $100,” said Okello.
 
Juliet Birungi, an obstetrician who has tried the WinSenga, says she sees another use for it. In understaffed hospitals like the one she works in, she says, the WinSenga could be even more helpful if it is attached to a mother’s belly during labor and delivery, monitoring the state of the baby.
 
“You have so many mothers in labor, and we do not have enough staff. You find that while the mother is laboring here, the other one is delivering, the other one is bleeding. So when you come, you are able to look at the recording,” said Birungi.
 
An abnormal fetal heart rate can be a warning sign of labor complications, and could mean the difference between life and death, says Birungi. Uganda’s maternal mortality rate is so high, she adds, that a machine can only do so much.
 
“Just like all devices, they do not replace the need for a human being who is skilled. The need is still there, and it’s real and it has to be worked upon. But this device would make their work easier, and the outcome would be much better,” said Birungi.
  
The app could easily be adapted to other developing countries with similar problems, thinks Okello. With a little tweaking, he adds, it could even be used at home by pregnant women in developed countries.
 
For the moment, however, he and his team are busy preparing for a clinical trial in January, when WinSenga will finally be put to the test.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid