Using empathic design to save the lives of pregnant women

How Caroline Smeenk and Dahabo Adi Galgallo are saving the lives of mothers and their unborn children, on opposite sides of the world.

Infant and maternal mortality rates across the globe are described as being unacceptably high by the World Health Organisation.

These deaths are caused by complications experienced by the mother and baby during and after giving birth.

Complications include hemorrhaging, infection, eclampsia among other things. While infant and maternal mortality rates occur more often in poorer and developing nations, it is an issue that affects women worldwide.

 Dahabo Adi Galgallo

We take a look at how these issues are being addressed in opposite sides of the world, both geographically and economically.

In Moyale, Kenya, Dahabo Adi Galgallo, an epidemiologist at Moyale Sub-County Hospital recognised that the women of the Marsabit county mostly belonged to herding or nomadic communities located in the remote plains of the county.

Access to proper healthcare for pregnant women can be really difficult in these circumstances and often leads to women having to give birth at home or in worst case scenarios suffering from illness or lead to death as a result.

Being a disease surveillance and lab co-ordinator in the area, she knew that pregnant women were suffering but she was unaware of the extent of the suffering.

She found that up to 40% of the babies that died was due to a lack of antenatal care.

For some locating the nearest medical facility was the problem, for others it was the problem of not being able to afford the 450 Kenyan shillings for antenatal check ups, however, Galgallo found that ignorance and illiterac played a major factor in this issue.

 Dahabo Adi Galgallo

Galgallo wanted to figure out a way to help these women. She then came up with the idea to provide with GPS tracking bracelets and instead of waiting for these women to come for their antenatal checks, the mobile medical facility would instead go to them.

The bracelet is waterproof and solar powered.

Galgallo and her teams make a list of the location of every mother before setting out for the day. The team usually sets up around communal areas like waterpoints or shady areas.

The team has seen an increase in women gathering around their medical mobile facility, event those without the bracelets. So far the facilities attract up to 150 women and children a day.

According to Galgallo, among the women fitted with the GPS bracelets, there have been zero deaths of mother and child to date.

In rural Canada, pregnant women are facing a similar problem, this according to former antenna speaker Caroline Smeenk.

Caroline Smeenk

Smeenk’s studies in user experience and her interest in healthcare led investigating the issues that affect pregnant women, specifically preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia or toxemia is a condition that can cause high blood pressure, high levels of protein in the urine and organ failure. It is one of the biggest killers of pregnant women and their unborn children and is prevalent in women from different geographic, racial, social and economic backgrounds.

According to Smeenk ⅕ of the Canadian population, about 6 million people live in rural or remote areas. 17% of these people live 2 hours away from a hospital.

For people who suffer from time sensitive issues like preeclampsia or even just being pregnant, being this far from a medical facility can be a problem.

Smeenk wanted to create something that can help make the diagnosis of preeclampsia more accessible to people. For her undergraduate thesis she investigated the conditions under which pregnant women would live, from creating a persona of someone who would be pregnant and possibly suffering from the condition to creating an empathetic testing suit.

Caroline Smeenk

In her research she discovered that there was a disturbingly high number of physicians who didn’t trust the things that these pregnant women who suffered from preeclampsia were feeling and this delayed an early diagnosis of the condition.

Due to this she knew that her project needed to help provide women with a more objective means of measuring their health condition and being able to communicate those results with their medical doctors.

Smeenk created a simplified medical care package that was made up of a blood pressure monitor, a small, more mobile nun’s cap to be used for testing urine samples, Ph strips for the urine testing as well as pairing it with a smartphone app that helps women understand their results and the condition better.

For Smeenk,she believes that empathy can genuinely be a form of innovation. She notes that the technology already exists, it's just a matter of applying to the lives that need it.


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