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Pre-Natal Care Goes Mobile in Uganda

2014-1-5
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

Three university students in Uganda have created a smartphone application that may help improve health care for pregnant women in rural areas.

Joshua Okello and two other students at Makerere University in Kampal created the app in 2012. They call it WinSenga - "senga" is the local word uses to describe a female family member who helps a woman during pregnancy. The "Win" in the name comes from the Microsoft product Windows.

Last year, the computer software company gave Mr Okello and his partners $50,000 to continue development on the WinSenga app.

A small microphone is placed inside a plastic horn. Mr Okello says midwives in the area have used similar devices for centuries to help women during childbirth.

"It's a long cone-shaped device with a hole through it and a flat top. The midwife places it on the belly and listens in. Every midwife in this country has seen it, and that is what they are trained with," said Okello.

The smartphone app records and examines the sound of the unborn baby's heartbeat. Mr Okello says, if the app suspects a problem, then it informs the midwife of different actions she might take.

"Say you have a baby and we detect that the heartbeat is less than 120 beats per minute. That is a problem. So immediately, we pop up something that says ‘Please, we suggest that you could do A, B, C, D,'" explained Okello.

Mr Okello says having a mobile device with this app could make it easier for health care workers to reach women in villages far away from cities. He says it will also be less costly than the machines that are now being used.

"We are getting a solution that's cheaper, which means that more clinics are going to get it. If we could get Huawei or I don't know who to give us phones for free, we are looking at a solution that's less than $100," said Okello.

Juliet Birungi is an obstetrician - a doctor who cares for pregnant women. She has tried WinSenga. She says hospitals could use the app to help medical workers follow the health of the baby, even when they are not there.

"You have so many mothers in labor, and we do not have enough staff. You find that while the mother is laboring here, the other one is delivering, the other one is bleeding. So when you come, you are able to look at the recording," said Birungi.

Doctor Birung says having these up to date records of the baby's health condition, could make the difference between life and death. But she says the app is not a substitute for a trained medical worker.

Mr Okello says the app could also be helpful in other developing countries with similar problems to Uganda. And he says, with further changes to the app, it could even be used at home by pregnant women in developed countries.

Work on WinSenga continues. Mr Okello and his team are busy preparing for a major series of clinical testing this month.

And that's the VOA Learning English Technology Report. I'm June Simms.