Technology’s Role in Improving Maternal Mortality

Of the many factors affecting the overall health of the mother and her baby during pregnancy what seems to be the most important is socioeconomic status. As seen in many parts of the world women in poverty have significantly less access to resources and potentially life saving treatments.Not to mention, medical care often lacks resources and ‘up-to-date’ technology.

While main international development efforts have been to increase the availability of these resources, many efforts have overlooked some more of the complex political or social structures surrounding this issue such as corruption in the medical field and lack of public awareness.

However, providing for this lack in adequate medical care and basic needs of pregnant women can become very costly especially when the resources that are provided through aid projects or grants can quickly become seized and used to make extra income for corrupt medical and government officials. In fact, only a third of essential medicines and life saving technologies available are actually used for the public sector in over 30 developing countries. The rest are used in the private sector usually sold to the highest bidder. This then leaves poor women in a difficult position where prenatal care can become too costly to obtain.

For reasons like this, many countries have begun implementing social awareness programs. The most successful have been noted in Honduras, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. In Honduras, the government worked towards creating social programs that provided information for women and their families as well as additional training to doctors and nurses on how to identify high risk women and encourage them to give birth in a medical facility.

While Honduras’ government’s approach took into account education of the public in addition to medical workers, Indonesia’s government left out parts of their population. Although Indonesia can be considered a ‘rising power’, it still has much to do in decreasing it maternal mortality ratio. One issue in the still high level of MMR is the concentration on improving medical services for women in Jakarta, the capital city but not in other parts of the country such as the islands of Maluku. Instead, a country wide medical plan known as ‘Jampersal’ has been implemented which has since lost funding and has been taken advantage of by medical officials and other authority figures, leaving poor residents with no other means of accessing medical care.

While social programs can sometimes fail or be taken advantage of, there is still hope in technology to improve maternal morbidity and the global MMR. Many engineers and technological thinkers in Western countries are focused on creating low cost and portable solutions to this global problem. Biomedical Engineering and International Health professor at Boston University, Muhammad Zaman describes in his article Maternal Health in Developing Countries: Engineering Approaches and Future Outlook, “ the issues of access, cost, scalability and ease of use in diagnosing, managing and addressing high- risk conditions” that still exist in a majority of the developing countries. The engineering community acknowledges the importance of access to maternal health care for low-income women and subsequently the vital need for low cost equipment and technologies.

The We Care Solar Suitcase provides medical lighting and power for emergency obstetric procedures.
The We Care Solar Suitcase provides medical lighting and power for emergency obstetric procedures.

In addition to portable, solar powered obstetric care suitcase, one example of a low cost method in aiding in the fight against maternal mortality is the non-pneumatic anti-shock garment also known as “life wrap” which slows the rate of blood loss and subsequently buys time for women who would otherwise die from severe hemorrhaging.

The 'life wrap' applies pressure to the legs and lower abdomen to slow the rate of postpartum hemorrhaging.
The ‘life wrap’ applies pressure to the legs and lower abdomen to slow the rate of postpartum hemorrhaging.

Equally important is the large scale access to cellphones and the multitude of apps and online health services that provide checkups and important information on prenatal care.

Overall, the increased awareness and availability of solutions and low cost resources have begun to positively impact the movement for improved maternal health across the globe- the key players in this battle being local social awareness movements and low cost technological advances. While improving maternal health worldwide has much more to go, the various medical and educational methods available have already began taking care of the ‘forgotten’ populations and set the tone for a global movement to improve conditions for maternal health rights in the developing world.



Works Cited

Abdeen, Saifudin. “Unsafe Motherhood.” InsideIndonesia, 1 July 2012. Accessed Nov. 2016.

Prata, Ndola, et al. “Maternal Mortality in Developing Countries: Challenges in Scaling-Up Priority Interventions.” Women’s Health, vol. 6, no. 2, 2010, pp. 311–327. Accessed 2016.

“Space-Age Technology Could Help Cut Maternal Deaths.” The Guardian, 24 June 2013. Accessed 2016.

Zaman, Muhammad H. Maternal Health in Developing Countries. 24 Jan. 2016.Accessed 7 Oct. 2016.

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