Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

Ugandan medics deploy AI to stop women dying after childbirth

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 31 January 2020 16:37 GMT

The gadget transmits patients' data such as respiratory rate, pulse, and blood pressure to a desktop or mobile platform - algorithms detect at-risk cases and alert doctors

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, Jan 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ugandan doctors are giving new mothers artificial intelligence-enabled devices to remotely monitor their health in a first-of-its-kind study aiming to curb thousands of preventable maternal deaths across Africa, medics and developers said.

Doctors at Mbarara Hospital in western Uganda will give devices to more than 1,000 women who have undergone caesarean section births to wear on their upper arms at all times.

The phone-sized gadget transmits patients' data such as respiratory rate, oxygen levels, pulse, temperature and blood pressure to a desktop or mobile platform. Algorithms detect at-risk cases and alert doctors.

Joseph Ngonzi from Mbarara University of Science and Technology, which is conducting the study, said it would help "improve monitoring in a resource-constrained environment".

The World Health Organization says almost 300,000 women worldwide die annually from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth - that's more than 800 women every day.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than two-thirds of those deaths, due to poorly-equipped medical facilities and limited healthcare workers.

U.N. figures show more women and newborns survive now than ever before but nations committed to ending maternal deaths face funding shortfalls, according to women's rights groups.

New York-based software firm Current Health, which developed the technology, said the technology had the potential to improve postpartum healthcare for women across Africa.

CEO Chris McCann said the devices - which require wireless internet and electricity - may not yet be practical for some African countries where connectivity and power is unreliable.

McCann said internet and electricity coverage was rapidly expanding across the continent.

Addressing concerns over patients' data privacy, he said participants provide written, informed consent - and their data is encrypted. Uganda enacted data protection and privacy legislation in 2019.

"We only use that data for the purposes of delivering our service and making it better for patients," he said. "I believe patients should clearly know exactly what is happening with their data, and we make this very transparent to them."

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.