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Fighting maternal mortality with an app

A PhD student is a member in a project partnership which was awarded the German-African Innovation Incentive Award 2018

The first time Jane Katusiime visited Berlin was as a tourist in 2012. She immediately liked the city as well as the main building of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU). “I want to come back and study here”, she thought at the time when she was still a master’s student at the University of Malmö.

She got her master's degree some time ago, and now she works on her doctoral thesis at the Institute for Informatics at the HU with Prof. Dr. Niels Pinkwart as her supervisor. There she is part of a large award-winning project which aims to lower maternal mortality in her home country of Uganda.

German-African Innovation Incentive Award 2018

Jane studied for her bachelor’s degree under the tutelage of Dr Angella Musiimenta at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. Dr Musiimenta was recently presented with the German-African Innovation Incentive Award 2018 – for her outstanding research achievements and the project partnership with Prof. Pinkwart for the project “Using a mobile phone-based multimedia technology to support maternal health in rural southwestern Uganda (MatHealth)”. The prize is awarded for the first time by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, with the prize money of 150.000 euros intended to put the award-winning project into practice.

Maternal mortality, i.e. when a woman dies during pregnancy or within 42 days of giving birth, is no longer a big issue in Germany, with ten deaths per 100,000 live births. Globally, however, maternal mortality is definitely not under control. Most of the deaths occur in the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa in particular, according to a study carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) jointly with other organisations. “Uganda is in the sad position to hold the record. According to the WHO, in 2015, 400 deaths per 100,000 live births were recorded there”, says Pinkwart, lecturer and researcher in computer science and society and the didactics of computer science.

The reasons why pregnant women and mothers die have been the same for centuries: infections, bleeding, heart failure, blot clots, pregnancy-related high blood pressure and abortion, and in Africa there is also the high rate of HIV infection. “The women often attend check-ups too late during pregnancy or not at all, and often because the health centres, which they usually have to walk to, are too far away. There is also a lack of professionals and medical equipment”, Jane Katusiime explains.

App to be tested by pregnant women for around one year

For her master’s thesis she already looked into the use of mobile phones to reduce mortality, and now she wants to design and program an app. The app will provide illiterate pregnant women in rural areas in south-western Uganda with important information in the form of multimedia content about such topics as nutrition, warning signs and how to prepare for the birth. What makes things difficult is that not every woman in rural Uganda has her own mobile phone. “But people usually share one with other family members”, says the doctoral student.

To find out more about how to design the planned 15 audio and 15 video messages for the app to make them user-friendly and appealing, the German and African project members will talk to pregnant women and clinic staff at the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. The app prototype will then be tested on 80 other pregnant women; 40 of them will be part of the control group and looked after without the app in the traditional way, which includes a small number of check-ups and lectures. The one-year test phase will cover the time of the pregnancy and six weeks after the birth. “We will then interview the participants to find out more about the app’s acceptance and user-friendliness”, says Pinkwart. “The effects on the pregnant women’s health will also be analysed.” If the results are positive, which the project partners expect, the app will be rolled out throughout Uganda with the support of the country’s ministry of health.

Author: Ljiljana Nikolic

Further information

Projekt MatHealth