Every day in sub-Saharan Africa we see mothers and children die from problems easily avoidable; however socio-economic, cultural and health barriers together stop mortality from lowering down among the poorest. In addition, high costs and consequent lack of health assistance in case of emergency, especially obstetric emergencies, make things worse.
We have to find solutions with what we have. That is why CUAMM is developing some innovative solutions to solve problems or deal with difficult situations by using devices we can easily find in everyday life. They are considered low-cost technologies, “poor”, because the devices do not cost much but can improve the quality of services.
Uganda: Oyam District. To guarantee free access to maternal and newborn care we introduced the Baby Kit, a series of simple objects to take care of the baby that sometimes families cannot afford.
«The kit (a plastic bucket, some soap, a sheet and 500 gr of sugar) is given to mothers that deliver in the Health Center, effectively reducing the costs once the baby is taken home». (Maria Nannini – Department of Economics, University of Florence)
In Uganda, Mozambique and Ethiopia, Doctors with Africa CUAMM is using small woolen socks and caps to keep premature babies warm. In low-income countries, deaths from hypothermia are much higher among newborn babies because there are no incubators: they are difficult to find or too expensive. Woolen socks and caps, together with Kangaroo Mother Care can result as a good solution to reduce newborn mortality. We started a random study with the University of Padova to investigate this procedure.
«These simple devices keep the baby’s temperature even, especially when they are premature. Think about the benefits in hospitals where the incubators are rare and, if there are some, you can see four or five newborn inside one!» Don Dante
Another successful “poor” innovation is the Birth Cushion, used for the first time in 2013 in Karamoja, within a project in partnership with UNICEF. As the tradition wants, the majority of women deliver at home standing on their knees. This implies that there is no midwife to assist the mum in case of any complication. To convince women to go to the health center, where they can be properly assisted, Doctors with Africa CUAMM introduced Birth Cushions (BCs), a low-tech and cheap technology, designed to make the woman comfortable in her traditional position during delivery. Birth Cushions consist of a seat for the midwife, a cushion for the mother and one for the newborn to lay on. After introducing this innovation at the Health Centers, we could see how using cushions could increase the number of assisted deliveries. Reasons are multiple: they are more acceptable, culturally speaking, and they improve the quality of delivery because of the midwife’s presence.
Using Birth Cushions to improve cheap health assistance has become a success on the international level. We can now participate as one of the 53 finalists to “Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development”. This annual event, sponsored by USAID, is taking place in Washington DC on 25-27th July 2017 and will be the chance for NGOs and charities to present their sustainable approaches and devices, aiming at improving the quality of health during pregnancy and delivery. The event is the occasion to present our work and the first results observed in Uganda: an increase of assisted deliveries at the Health Centers.
Baby Kits, woolen caps and Birth Cushions. They are just small devices coming from the need to work with affordable materials. Indeed, investing in “poor” innovation does not mean our work is getting worse, but it means that we accept the context and adapt to it. This is the great lesson the field taught us. Even when resources are low, creativity and willingness to do good is what we bring with us.