The US$100,000 project, called M-Health, and funded by the United Nations Population Fund, involves using mobile technology to access health services.
Patrick Okwen, the coordinator of the project, which was launched last month (20 September), tells SciDev.Net: “The way M-Health functions is that you try to use mobile phone technology to identify certain health problems and to bring community members or people who are sick closer to the doctor”.
“They can use their mobile phones, or the mobile phones of their husbands, relatives or neighbours to activate a referral system which will tell the doctor, midwife and driver that there is a woman in distress.”
Patrick Okwen, Netherlands Development Organization, Cameroon
Okwen, who is Cameroon’ focal point for Health at Netherlands Development Organization, says he started testing the M-Health technology in Lagdo, a locality in Cameroon’s Far North Region.
“In this particular case, we try to identify pregnant women and identify their homes and get their GPS [geographic positioning system] location using Google Earth when they have a problem, for example, if they have bleeding or they have abnormal pains, or they go into labour unexpectedly,” Okwen explains.
He adds: “They can use their mobile phones, or the mobile phones of their husbands, relatives or neighbours to activate a referral system which will tell the doctor, midwife and driver that there is a woman in distress. The driver, using a smartphone, will then track the woman using her GPS location and bring her to hospital”.
Okwen says just two days after the technology was introduced, a distress short message service (SMS) saved Sally Aishatou and her baby, who otherwise could have died. Aishatou activated the system, and before the ambulance pulled up at her home, she was lying helpless on a mat, having almost passed out.
By the time the ambulance returned to the hospital, the operation room was ready for her and she was taken into surgery immediately. Eight minutes later, her 4.71kilogram baby boy was born. Midwife Manou Djakaou was overjoyed.
“The joy in me is so great. I am so excited …. This system is very efficient. Were it not for this innovation, we could have lost this baby and his mother,” Djakaou explained. Two hours after surgery, Aishatou regained consciousness.
The project has benefitted “close to 100 women in terms of information, evacuation, arrangements of hospital visits, deliveries and caesarean sections,” Okwen says, adding that the technology could help reduce the high infant and maternal mortality rates in Cameroon.
The project has been dubbed “Tsamounde”, which means hope in the local Fufuldé language.
The WHO statistics show that 600 women out of every 100,000 die while giving birth or from birth-related complications in Cameroon.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.