Daisy Ankunda expects to give birth soon. During this trimester, she must constantly monitor her baby.
But she doesn’t have to go to the hospital for the checks, thanks to a digital fetal monitoring tool developed by a team of Ugandan engineers.
With the Wekebere device, she can personally tell whether the baby is in distress, as she sees the signals of its heartbeat and rhythm transmitted on her phone.
“When I was three months pregnant, I decided to start my antenatal care and went to a certain hospital but I went back home unworked and this was because of overcrowding of pregnant mothers and the long queue that was there”, Daisy Ankunda, the expectant mother explains her shift to using the app.
And on that day she says, “the nurses were very few to work upon all of us”, a common scene in hospitals in developing countries where patients outweigh health workers in number.
As the name of the system suggests, Wekebere means check yourself. It is more effective in the last trimester.
The innovation was birthed when software engineer Stephen Tashobya lost his sister to pregnancy complications.
“Combining this pain and passion, we were able now to start as a team to see what kind of solution can we be able to develop to help other mothers who are pregnant, who don’t have access to care so that they can a smooth transition during the pregnancy period of time”, Tashobya, software engineer and CEO of Wekebere.
Statistics show that in Uganda 40 babies out of 1000 die due to complications during pregnancy and the maternal mortality ratio is estimated at 336 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Dr. Sam Ononge has led the Wekebere clinical trial with 15 mothers at Kawampe National Referral Hospital in the capital, Kampala.
The intervention means they can handle more mothers even remotely.
“We use what ordinarily a midwife puts in their ear to listen to the heartbeat and that is the same instrument we use during labor – the time of delivering. Now the challenge with that is that you need to come and listen more often. You will come and listen to the baby’s heartbeat and record it. Now the Wekebere system is beautiful in such a way that you have now something that is attached to the tummy of the mother and is able to pick out the senses of the heartbeat of the baby inside and also able to monitor the labor pains”, Dr. Ononge explains.
Wekebere is rented out at $10 or can be purchased at $200.
But the majority of mothers, who need it, can’t afford this price. It is a gap the developers are working to bridge.
That being said, the innovation is being touted as one that could save thousands of babies, especially in a country where sophisticated medical technology is lacking.