Asha (name changed) is pregnant for the third time, and since she has given birth twice, she, along with her mother-in-law and husband, feel that regular doctor visits are not needed.
Her husband is a daily wage labourer in a nearby town and has been off work for some time now since there has been a slump in all construction work in town.
Each doctor visit for this family costs between Rs 300 to Rs 500 depending on the mode of transport and the medicines that the doctor prescribes. To save this money, Asha stays back and for almost six months has not visited the doctor.
While this is a random example, it is a common story of tens of thousands of women in Rural India, who endanger their own lives and the lives of their unborn children.
The ‘motherhood’ journey that a woman goes through, from becoming pregnant to delivering a child, can be both incredible and worrisome at the same time. But the numbers are anything but worrisome. Statistics put out by the World Health Organisation say that, in India, five women die every hour due to various complications that arise during childbirth.
Alarmingly, India accounts for 17% of such deaths globally. The statistics are further skewed when looked at from an urban-rural perspective, with rural India contributing disproportionately to pregnancy-related deaths.
But how to solve this problem given the vast, and often inaccessible regions of rural India? One needs an out-of-the-box solution that leverages the reach and accessibility of technology to address this problem.
Meet CareNx, an app that is solving such problems, and so much in rural India.
Created by Shantanu Pathak and Aditya Kulkarni, CareNX has provided help to over 3000 pregnancies in more than 60 locations so far, and they aim to serve five million pregnant mothers by 2021.
They provide end-to-end solutions to vulnerable mothers in remote villages and slums and connect them to modern healthcare facilities.
We, at The Better India, spoke to Shantanu who gave us insights into how technology is being leveraged to make maternal healthcare in rural India accessible.
A heartbeat that changed a mindset
Shantanu speaks about this one incident that took place in a village in Aurangabad. A pregnant woman was not allowed to visit the doctor by her mother-in-law for various reasons.
On one occasion a health care worker visited their house and what transpired during that routine check-up changed their lives.
“After setting up the foetal doppler which allows you to hear the heartbeat of the foetus, there was such a change in the way the family members started viewing technology and medical intervention. The mother-in-law was so happy to hear the heartbeat and had so many questions post that check-up. In the follow-up visit, the entire family turned up at the centre because their excitement was so high,” he says.
They wanted to hear the heartbeat, wanted to see the images on the screen. These are the small ways in which they have managed to engage the community and draw them in to ensure better healthcare for pregnant women.
How it Works
CareNX has developed a cloud-based mobile diagnostic device that helps pregnant women in rural India receive timely medical attention. Their app, named ‘Care Mother‘, helps detect pregnant women categorised as high-risk cases through health workers and links them with doctors for regular check-ups and antenatal (pre-birth) care.
One of the major problems is that pregnant women do not attend regular check-ups at health camps.
However, using this technology, health workers or antenatal care (ANC) workers can use a portable kit during door-to-door visits.
Health workers in various districts are given an antenatal care kit, which has the following in it – Blood Pressure Monitoring Machine, Urine Strips, Portable Weighing Scale, Thermometer, Measuring Tape, H B Meter, Glucometer, Fetal Doppler, and Stethoscope.
All these are integrated with a smartphone. Once the test results are entered into the app, they are stored in the cloud, from which doctors can monitor, provide feedback and look into cases.
What’s more, the smart algorithm helps health workers detect high-risk pregnancies and connect them to nearby gynaecologists for further diagnosis and treatment. The local doctors will also get an alert about high-risk women identified in the region through the same application, installed on their phones.
‘Care Mother’ has helped the government, medical colleges and doctors to double their reach and reduce operational expenses by 50 percent, says Shantanu.
Cheap And Effective
“A standard test in a hospital would cost you around Rs 400, and this is not inclusive of the transportation cost. Another cost that people don’t take account for is that a woman has to take a day off from work to go to the lab and get these tests done. Regular checkups for women in remote areas, where the closest labs are more than 10-15 kilometres away, are extremely expensive and time-consuming. Since we take our testing equipment to their doorsteps and provide antenatal care, we can cut many of these costs. The government mandates four tests per pregnancy, but we conduct at least eight,” says Shantanu.
Implementation and adoption of this platform by health workers and doctors
“When we gave this kit to the health workers we found them to become empowered. They took it upon themselves to effectively use the tools and reduce the occurrence of high-risk pregnancy cases going undetected.” Shantanu says.
The app is extremely user-friendly, and a health worker who is a grade 7 pass out is also able to use it effectively.
When it comes to doctors, Shantanu says, “we all know that in India, doctors are loaded with work. What we realised is that while the doctors needed an app that required very low Internet bandwidth and was easy to use. Because the app shows data of mothers who are at risk, made it easier for the doctors to focus on them.”
Empowering women in rural India to take ownership and onus of their health is what CareNx is working towards.
With the wide usage of this mobile diagnostic device, the hope is that women all over get timely medical assistance.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)