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Africa Wired: Portable ultrasound device to tackle child mortality
The puzzle of the high maternal and child mortality rate in Africa, especially for children under the age of five, remains a major concern even as all efforts are made to reverse the trend.
The figures are bleak: 1 in 12 children in sub-Saharan Africa dies before turning 5, and more than 430 women die each day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Infections related to the delivery process, and communicable diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria, are the leading cause of these deaths. The high number of maternal deaths reflects inequities in access to health services.
To help save lives, some companies have started tapping into new technologies that can diagnose health conditions and diseases more efficiently and accurately than current practices using standard equipment.
One such technology is the Vscan, a non-invasive ultrasound device the size of a smartphone, which provides real-time high-resolution images that can be used in medical fields such as cardiology and obstetrics and gynaecology.
Created by General Electric, a US conglomerate corporation, and launched at the World Health Assembly in Geneva last May, the Vscan, with its handheld size and easy-to-navigate touch screen, can come in handy in rural areas in Africa where health facilities are under-equipped.
The new invention can be a valuable asset in prenatal and antenatal care for mothers who do not have access to larger health care facilities.
WHO recommends that women have at least four antenatal visits to detect any complications in pregnancies, and many in rural areas do not have the means or the access to facilities to undertake even a single visit. One ultrasound scan before 24 weeks’ gestation (known as an early ultrasound) is crucial to estimate gestational age, improve detection of fetal anomalies and multiple pregnancies, reduce induction of labour for post-term pregnancy, and improve a woman’s pregnancy experience.
A Vscan machine retails for about $10,000, as opposed to the traditional cart ultrasound machine, which can cost $250,000 or more.
The device has been well received, especially by pregnant women and health experts, because it can be instrumental in finding birth defects in foetuses, and can help in monitoring high-risk pregnancies as well as determining the position of a baby before birth.
Towards the end of this year, GE officials travelled to Nigeria to assist more than one thousand midwives and health care providers with training over the course of three years.
“Through the availability of relevant technologies, such as the Vscan access and comprehensive training, we aim to make a meaningful contribution to primary and referral care by building capacity, enhancing skills and driving better outcomes for Nigerian mothers and babies and for their communities,” says Farid Fezoua, the president and CEO of GE Healthcare Africa.