In 2018, U.S. periodicals have drawn attention to the fact that the United States, a pillar of scientific innovation in the global community, has the highest rate of maternal death of any country in the developed world.
Maternal Deaths and Infant Mortality in Developing Countries
According to the World Health Organization, women in developing countries comprise 99 percent of all maternal deaths. Up to 75 percent of cases can be attributed to severe bleeding, infection and pre-eclampsia/eclampsia.
The severity of maternal deaths is compounded because these same populations also experience higher rates of infant mortality. Infant mortality is commonly caused by birth defect, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. These issues are particularly dangerous in developing nations because of inadequate nutrition.
Mothers and children in developing countries require effective, innovative solutions to life-threatening problems. Convergence in Healthcare and the innovation it inspires may be the answer. The following three areas of convergence-based research could lead to enhanced safety for women and newborns around the world.
A Potential Diagnostic Test for Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia affects approximately 5 percent of pregnant women. It is the most common complication related to childbirth. Symptoms include high blood pressure, limb swelling and high protein content in a woman’s urine.
The condition is not life-threatening on its own. However, undiagnosed preeclampsia can lead to developing a more serious condition of eclampsia.
Eclampsia puts both woman and baby at risk because it can raise the mother’s blood pressure to the point of causing seizures. Eclampsia is one of the top three causes of maternal death in childbirth.
If preeclampsia can be identified before it transitions into eclampsia, physicians can treat mothers to prevent the escalation of the condition. New convergent research holds promise with the invention of a diagnostic tool.
It relies on the use of molecular biomarkers, Next Generation Sequencing, and machine learning algorithms to identify preeclampsia in mothers-to-be via a blood test. This confluence of computing technology and biomedicine represents the kind of convergent research which could make caring for mothers worldwide a simpler, more exact science.
A Tool to Protect New Mothers from Postpartum Hemorrhage
Another cause for concern for pregnant women in the developing world is the possibility of postpartum hemorrhage. This condition is the cause of more than a third of global maternal deaths.
Postpartum hemorrhage occurs when a woman experiences heavy, uncontrolled bleeding after giving birth to a child. It can cause major blood loss, a severe drop in blood pressure, shock and death.
Hemorrhaging can occur in the body of a new mother within the first day after childbirth or as long as 12 weeks afterward. Approximately 99 percent of women who lose their lives to postpartum hemorrhage live in low- or middle-income countries.
Through the convergent collaboration of medical scientists and engineers, researchers have developed a simple but effective tool against postpartum hemorrhaging in the developing world. The tool is called LifeWrap. It is an economical, easily-transportable suit inspired by the design of the antigravity suits worn by NASA astronauts.
The anti-shock garment works by compressing the body of a woman experiencing hemorrhage. Compression reverses symptoms of shock and slows blood loss by leveraging circumferential counter pressure.
The product is able to stabilize a mother’s condition for up to three days. This gives women time to travel to areas with qualified medical professionals and receive treatment for the condition.
Wearables Capable of Monitoring Infant Vitals
In addition to the risks posed to new mothers in low- and middle-income countries, newborns and children under 5 years of age in these areas are also especially vulnerable to dangerous health conditions and disease. Of the 3 million infants annually who do not survive past the first week of life, 99 percent are born in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Many of the root causes of infant mortality in these areas could be addressed with more comprehensive medical care. Unfortunately, medical facilities in the developing world are short-staffed and overwhelmed by the large number of people in need of care.
Unfortunately, this means there is little time to give newborns the level of attention necessary to adequately address their health needs. As a result, many tech companies are engaging in convergent research to develop wearables designed to help medical staff monitor infant vitals.
One of the most exciting products developed so far is the SPOtwo Bootie. This wraparound wearable is attached to a baby’s foot to detect vital signs such as severe infection, low oxygen saturation and congenital heart disease. Another device, called Neopenda, is capable of monitoring heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, temperature and respiratory rate through a small hat with a sensor attached.
Both the SPOtwo Bootie and Neopenda send vital reports and alerts to an app, which hospital staff can view via smartphone. This enables medical personnel to check regularly on their youngest and most vulnerable patients, even during busy rotations in overcrowded facilities. The ability to give these infants more attention through new technology mean the difference between life and death in the world’s financially disadvantaged communities.