Maternal health is taking centre stage in the global development agenda. The term itself refers to the health of women during pregnancy (the “antenatal” period ), childbirth and the first six weeks of the child’s life (the “postnatal” period). The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals target a reduction in global maternal mortality to 0.7 maternal deaths for every 1000 live births by the year 2030.
Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. For every 1,000 live births, 17 mothers will lose their life. By comparison, in the USA an average of 0.1 mothers die per 1,000 live births. 75% of maternal deaths are caused by complications, such as bleeding and infections, that occur during the delivery of their child, or the first few days afterwards.
Poor access to maternal healthcare services, continuing conflict and political insecurity in Afghanistan, and the concern of women about receiving healthcare from male healthcare professionals create a substantial challenge for healthcare delivery.
Yet a significant number of these deaths can be prevented through improving access to quality antenatal care and through educating families so they can recognise the symptoms of complicated pregnancies.
World Vision’s “Better Health for Afghan Mothers and Children” programme uses the mobile phone application ‘CommCare’ to allow community health workers (CHW) to advise pregnant women and family members.
CHWs visited women during their antenatal and postnatal period, using the app to provide information to mothers, make emergency calls and report home visits.
By 2012, the use of CommCare lead to a 20% increase in antenatal visits, 12.9% increased awareness of warning signs by families and 11.6% more deliveries in healthcare centres, compared to areas that did not use CommCare. The project has so far reached 45,250 women of reproductive age and 36,200 children under five, across 74 villages in the Herat province.
The information provided by CommCare was based on Home Based Life Saving Skills (HBLSS). HBLSS is an approach that educates and prepares families for births, empowering them to make appropriate healthcare decisions, and ultimately reducing maternal mortality.
Integrating technology into the work of CHWs has enhanced women’s maternal health awareness and increased the uptake of health services. In a country where a large number of maternal deaths are preventable, this innovative solution that addresses the geographical and cultural barriers that hinder access to healthcare has the potential to save lives.