A new tool for saving women’s lives

Cell phones have cut dramatically the number of women dying during childbirth in Amensie village in south-central Ghana, according to an article posted on AlertNet in December 2009.

“When we did not have mobile telecommunication, women were dying,” district nurse Madam Lydia Owusu told IRIN. “It was horrifying to be pregnant here before this project came along…Mothers used to bleed to death while waiting in their homes, hoping a health worker would come to help them. We have not recorded a single maternal death in Amensie village since 2006 when this project started,” she said.
Amensie is part of a cluster of villages called Bonsaaso, 60km from Ghana’s second largest city, Kumasi, in Ashanti region. Bonsaaso is part of the Millennium Villages project, in which villages are selected by development agencies to receive assistance in reaching the Millennium Development Goals and lifting residents – in this case 30,000 – out of poverty. Since 2006 development partners have built and improved Bonsaaso’s schools and health clinics and provided an ambulance to the nearest district hospital in Tonto Krom, 12km away. But even with the district’s first ambulance maternal deaths did not decrease, as villagers could not communicate when they needed the vehicle, said Owusu.
In 2006 mobile handset producer Ericsson teamed with mobile telecommunications firm Zain to install Internet access and mobile phone coverage in the villages. They distributed free handsets to health workers and sold handsets to villagers for US$10 each.
“We entered the project because we believe information and communications technology play a critical role in helping to end the poverty cycle,” Elaine Weidman, Vice-President of Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson, told IRIN.
The UN says maternal health overall has improved in Bonsaaso due to improved primary healthcare services. But local nurse Owusu said the drop in deaths during childbirth is due primarily to information and communication technologies (ICT) plus the ambulance. The Grameen Bank’s Applications Laboratory, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also took on an IT project and worked with the Ghana Health Service to provide affordable handsets to pregnant women in Upper East Region. Women received answers to common ante- and post-natal questions as well as reminders about check-ups or vaccinations.

www.irinnews.org

www.womendeliver.org

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