As we observe World Prematurity Day on 17 November 2016, we recognise that 38 out of every 1 000 babies born in South Africa still die before the age of five*. Although we have made great strides in antenatal and infant care over the past decade, many of these cases are entirely preventable if they are detected and treated early.
UNICEF partnered with the National Department of Health (NDOH) to host an event in Soshanguve today to showcase South African technology innovators that are rising to this challenge. During the course of the morning, Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, introduced five mobile applications that help to reduce the incidence of premature births and improve antenatal care in the country.
These platforms included: MomConnect, NurseConnect, Road to Health and the new and cost-effective UmbiFlow apparatus. He also applauded the efforts and successes of existing lifesaving practices like human milk banking that has supported an estimated 5 000 premature infants this year alone.
“Prematurity is one of the three major causes of newborn deaths in South Africa. The NDOH will continue to work in partnership with its stakeholders to improve newborn care and the health and nutrition of children under five,” said the Minister.
Amongst the distinguished attendees at the event were both the first and the millionth mom to register on MomConnect, a pioneering communication platform that provides expectant mothers with a steady stream of information via SMS that is linked to the current stage of their pregnancy, free of charge.
NurseConnect, one of the platforms showcased, provides nurses with the latest information on caring for pregnant mothers and infants, ensuring that they stay up to date with the latest developments and innovations in childcare. It also allows nurses to set up learning and support networks between themselves.
“Programmes like MomConnect and NurseConnect create vital links between healthcare providers and new and pregnant mothers. These links are the best way to reduce the incidence of premature births, and to reduce both infant and maternal mortality rates,” he added.
The new Road to Health application will supplement the current paper system that tracks a child’s development over the first five years of its life. It will automatically remind parents of clinic appointments, track important vaccinations and serves as an interactive tool in assessing their child’s health and development.
The UmbiFlow apparatus is a simple handheld device that uses ultrasound waves to assess blood flow in the umbilical cord of unborn babies. This makes it possible to gauge the size and health of the baby in a mother’s womb in remote areas.
“We welcome such innovative solutions that provide expectant mothers from all walks of life with access to the information and services they need to ensure their babies are born healthy and that they remain healthy,” says the Minister.
Approximately 11 000 babies die in the first month of life in South Africa. As such these applications have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year by simply giving parents the information and support that they need to raise a healthy child. By supporting and promoting these innovative solutions, we help to make South Africa the country it deserves to be.
For more information on these innovations or antenatal health in general please call 082 887 3581 or email Mailaj@health.gov.za.
* South Africa Maternal and Child Health Data 2015, Countdown to 2030.