Technology Promises Transformation of Maternal and Newborn Health Care in Turkana County

One of the tragic stories encountered as one sets foot in Turkana County is that every year, more than 1500 women, of every 100,000 live births, lose their lives due to pregnancy related complications. In addition, a woman in Turkana County has to walk an average of 20 kilometres to access a health facility. For pregnant women and newborn babies, the health care targets remain dismal, as these women have to keep moving with their livestock in search for water and grass. Amidst recurring drought, conflict over livestock, water and other scarce resources in Turkana, their timeless way of life hangs in the balance, as women seek care, if available, from different healthcare providers in their path of movement. Thus, providers are unaware of complications previously identified, care and treatment plans are mixed inappropriately, tracking the mother or patient at the community level is difficult, and patient education is fractured. Consequently, there is significant loss to follow-up and inconsistency in maternal and newborn health care, lowering the quality of care during pregnancy and the post-natal period. Clients are double registered across health facilities and community health units, making for grossly inaccurate data being fed to the government’s aggregate data repository.

Afya Research Africa (ARA) is a non-governmental organization at the forefront of an initiative to improve the health of these pregnant women and their new-borns. Working in partnership with the Ministry of Health and with funding from the County Innovation Challenge Fund, ARA is implementing the Ubuntu Digital Collaboration (UDC) project that aims at connecting clients to health providers electronically using a health information system called STONE Health Management Information System (STONEHMIS®). 

Ubuntu Digital Collaboration creates a digital and physical network of health care providers and connects them to women of reproductive age, including pregnant adolescents, to effectively follow them through pregnancy and the postpartum period. The innovation provides integrated electronic health record tools that empower community health workers and clinicians to provide basic maternal and newborn health services to this migratory population. Utilising the STONEHMIS® electronic medical records system, health workers are able to uniquely identify, educate, empower, treat, and follow-up on pregnant women within a pastoralist community. The UDC platform provides connectivity that allows identification and tracking of women from communities to the health facilities, which increases the uptake of antenatal care services and ultimately skilled delivery. The STONEHMIS® platform uses biometrics to uniquely identify mothers and enhance collaborative service delivery across multiple providers.

“The potential that this innovation brings is impressive. From improving access, reducing loss to follow-up, to enhancing quality of care, and ultimately saving women’s lives; it shows great promise,” remarked Maurine Ng’oda, CICF’s Technical Assistant, during a recent visit to the project site.

So far 1298 households have been mapped and 10 health facilities linked digitally. Pregnant women seeking care from any of these facilities can easily be tracked using their biometric-based unique identifiers, which the system generates once a woman is registered.