By Sinan Khalid Waheed
Maternal and neonatal child health remains one of the country’s most important and difficult challenges in order to meet the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals.
Recently, General Electric and its Pakistani partner, Ferozsons Laboratories Limited began a collaboration with the Government of Punjab to address the important challenge of overcoming maternal and newborn deaths in Punjab. Despite progress in other areas of development, Pakistan, today has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal and newborn deaths during childbirth, with over 14,000 mothers and 300,000 infants dying annually.
The government of Punjab is investing Rs 500,000,000 in order to ensure that pregnant women, even those in remote areas have access to quality antenatal care and ultrasound diagnosis.
With over 66% of the nation’s population living in rural areas, access to quality antenatal care is scarce. This project trains community midwives to perform ultrasound diagnosis with the help of a special, portable device and identify complications during pregnancy that can be prevented.
Since public transport is a serious problem in Pakistan, people living in rural areas prefer visits from the local midwives, or at most are able to reach their local Basic Health Units (BHUs). A review of tertiary hospitals has also revealed that travelling long distances has resulted in 40% of maternal deaths since road conditions, weather conditions and other factors tend to vary and may extend the time it takes to travel from one place to another.
Women’s lack of independence also plays a key role in these mortalities, since men often do not want their women leaving the house and so, these women often die, along with their babies because they are not able to get the medical attention that they need. However, research has shown that 80% of maternal deaths can easily be avoided, just by attending to these pregnant women with the right and necessary medical attention close to where they live.
With the help of this device, we can be hopeful that there will be a meaningful decrease in the number of maternal deaths in Punjab and that there will be a meaningful increase in the number of healthy babies born as well.
Not only will this vital project help save lives and ensure quality care in the poorest and most remote areas of the province, in the future it can also help counter another major challenge facing mothers and children in Pakistan: malnutrition and childhood stunting.
Nearly 60% of children in Pakistan under the age of 5 are stunted. These portable ultrasound devices can also be loaded with important informational videos on nutrition for mothers and infants, on which the midwives can be trained so that they may use this device effectively to educate mothers on good nutrition practices for themselves and their babies.