Maternal Mortality in Uganda: The Need for Wekebere’s Innovative Solution

Globally, 830 women are lost every day due to pregnancy complications, the vast majority of which are preventable and treatable. In Uganda alone, 16 mothers and 94 babies are lost daily. Maternal mortality has been highlighted as a priority by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including the target of providing universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services by 2030. 

Many expectant mothers, especially those far from healthcare facilities, go through their pregnancies with very little information on whether what they are experiencing is normal or a cause for concern. Therefore, they are often unsure of whether or not to make the effort to visit a health facility. This can result in either spending significant time and money to see a medical professional unnecessarily or waiting too long to address complications. When a healthcare visit takes place when it is not needed, it is expensive for the patient, adds to the overcrowding in maternity wards, and increases the burden on medical professionals. When complications are addressed later than they should be, this can lead to expensive emergency interventions, such as c-sections, that could have been avoided, or even loss of life. 

The root of this problem is a lack of access to information. The expectant mother often does not have information about what is going on in her body and, therefore, does not know when to be alarmed and when everything is progressing as it should. Medical professionals do not have information about the mothers who come to see them, making it challenging to triage and treat patients effectively. 

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Stephen Tashobya, the founder of Wekebere, understands this challenge on a personal level. He says he started Wekebere out of “both pain and passion” after his own sister died during childbirth. By the time she realized she was in labour, she was not able to travel the 100 kilometres to the nearest health facility and her complications were not addressed in time. As his family searched for the reasons why his sister died, he discovered that her case was not unique and that, in fact, many expectant mothers experience very similar challenges. Stephen, who was in his fourth year of university at the time, asked himself, “How do I use the skills attained in school to build a solution that can impact the community and tackle the real problems that are affecting people on the ground level?” 

Teaming up with colleagues who had medical experience as well as programmers like himself, they came up with a device that allows expectant mothers to have information at their fingertips and provide better information to doctors. Their process began as any good invention should: by asking questions. They wanted to understand the root causes and what was actually needed on the ground. After visiting 27 hospitals and speaking with over 100 midwives and mothers, they realized they needed to come up with a solution that could collect and monitor physiological data from both the mother and the fetus and provide information to mothers and the necessary medical professionals.

When it comes to the medical device, they are currently on their fourth generation prototype, which can detect fetal movements, fetal heart rate, and uterine contractions. Their app, which users have already started using for knowledge sharing, is on Google Play Store. They will soon be launching a pilot study in Kawempe National Referral Hospital to ensure the efficacy and safety of their product, after which clinical trials will take place in several regions throughout Uganda.

“This innovation has the power to save so many lives, not only in Uganda, but also throughout Africa. The cost of the problem is also very high, and we believe Wekebere’s solution should help reduce it.” - Immanuel Momanyi, Senior Portfolio Manager at Villgro Africa

As Wekebere continues in the development of their innovation with the support of Villgro Africa, Stephen and his team ultimately hope that they will make an impact when it comes to tackling the root cause of the problem. They hope to reduce maternal and infant mortality as well as neonatal deaths, increase expectant mothers’ utilisation of health services, improve the speed and accuracy of health workers, and reduce healthcare expenses.