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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs