How tech is improving access to prenatal care in Africa

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 08 January 2016
How tech is improving access to prenatal care in Africa

Across developed countries, we take prenatal care for granted. But for women in Uganda, especially those living in rural areas, it’s costly and complicated. Jennifer Warnick from Microsoft’s news team says that in Uganda the government recommends four prenatal visits for pregnant mothers, though women – especially those who live in rural areas – don’t always have the money, time or means to travel to see a doctor at a medical center. “They often look to local midwives for help, but midwives don’t always have access to modern medical equipment,” she explains.

Warnick goes on to highlight how a group of young African developers recently decided to use technology to take aim at this problem. Their company, Cipher256, created a smartphone-based ultrasound called WinSenga, an affordable fetoscope that plugs into a mobile phone and is operated using an app. WinSenga is built on Microsoft technology – the app was created in Visual Studio and is backed by Azure cloud services. WinSenga currently runs on Windows Phone.

In the past, expectant mothers had to imagine what doctors and midwives heard as they listened to their baby’s heartbeat through old-fashioned devices. The WinSenga device lets doctors and midwives more easily monitor the health of a fetus, but it also lets mothers in on the experience, allowing them to have a listen as the gentle whir of their baby’s heart is piped through headphones.

 “It’s not just a great way to track the health of the pregnancy and raise awareness if there are problems. It brings peace of mind for the mothers. Mothers always want to hear their baby’s heartbeat,” Joshua Okello, co-founder and team leader for Cipher256, told Warnick.

“It gives them assurance that the baby is really fine,” added Edmund Ainebyona, general manager for Cipher256. “It also makes them happy.”

By improving the experience for expectant mothers, and possibly even the outcome of pregnancies, the team hopes they can “turn over a new leaf” in Africa – and beyond.

“Mothers are actually the cornerstone of every African community I know of. Every statistic shows that healthy mothers in any community means better education levels, better socioeconomic development for the entire community – a better future,” Okello said.

Added Ainebyona: “We ultimately believe WinSenga will be able to cross borders and help other countries facing the same problems.”

You can read more about this project here.

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