The following post was submitted by guest blogger, recent UC Santa Cruz graduate, and Co-Director of e-health Nigeria, Evelyn Castle.
Reducing maternal mortality is finally being recognized as a cause worth supporting, with government officials and Hollywood stars rallying to bring an end to women's suffering around the world. The "Women Deliver" conference, which occurred in D.C. last month, and the Global Maternal Health Conference, which is scheduled for the end of August, have brought together world leaders to focus solely on this pressing issue. But what is really happening, on the ground, to reduce maternal mortality?
Last summer, I traveled to Nigeria, a country where 1 in 18 women die due to pregnancy related complications, to answer this question for myself. I wanted to see the causes of maternal mortality, what programs were being implemented to reduce it, and which of those programs were actually working. What I found was multiple organizations implementing maternal health projects, however not one of them had an effective way to measure health impact. Not having those statistics is a serious problem. Collecting statistical data may seem expensive, but it is much more expensive to mis-allocate resources because of bad data.
In order for the maternal mortality rate to decrease, information needs to be collected on maternal health in a way that can be used to allow government and NGOs to determine the effectiveness of their public health projects AND to help health professionals make better medical decisions for women.
Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) provide a tool to do just this. At a maternal health clinic in Nigeria, I implemented an EMR system and watched as the data that was collected helped health workers determine if a woman might have complications during pregnancy, and if it would be best for her to deliver at a hospital. I also witnessed the monthly medical report transform from a 2 week, inaccurate guess to a push-of-the button, precise analysis of the clinic’s history.
After returning home to UC Santa Cruz, I created eHealth Nigeria, which supports the management of health facilities in Nigeria to influence health-related funding and policy decisions, and provides doctors with the patient information needed to improve decision-making before, during, and after care. My partner and I spent the last 9 months improving the EMR system, researching other EMR projects, and fundraising in order to return to Nigeria and work with NGOs to implement EMR systems in more hospitals and clinics.
I am currently blogging from Nigeria and will be here for the next 6 months continuing my work. While I am here, I will also have the opportunity to meet with feminist Nigerian leaders, reproductive health workers, and women government officials.
Maternal mortality is not an issue that should only be spoken about in conferences and meetings. These are real women dying and people need to understand what is actually happening on the ground. I hope my blog can help show the struggles that women must endure and encourage you to get involved. Please contact me at my blog with questions/blog ideas/comments.