Alain Nteff, a 29-year-old Cameroonian, who created Gifted Mom with Queen Elizabeth of England in 2015 when she endorsed the app, which notifies subscribed pregnant women and new mothers by SMS on when they should do their antenatal care and tracks the vaccination programme of children less than 5 years. Photo: Courtesy
In March 2016, the world watched on the social media, with consternation, how an untrained, inexperienced woman, desperate to save the twins trapped in their deceased mother’s womb, performed a crude caesarian-section operation in plain view at the doorsteps of the notorious Laquintinie Hospital in Douala, Cameroon. Sadly, Koumate Monique, the mother of the twins died with her unborn children. Perhaps, just an SMS would have saved her life and her twins.
By Arison TAMFU
“We got up this morning and discovered that he is dead” Linda Moloh quivered and wept as she announced the death of her two-year old son to the villagers. It was a luminous afternoon in Lus, a landlocked community in the Donga-Mantung division of the North West region of Cameroon, located about six km from the Nigerian border.
“I want to die. What have I done to deserve this” Linda cried out and rolled on the ground beside the mortal remains of her son.
A skinny woman in her early twenties, Linda has spent most of her life mourning. When she was just 17 years old, she miscarried after three months. She conceived two years later and once more the child died after one year and now her son is dead.
“We have lost three children in just four years” said Emmanuel Moloh, Linda’s husband, a skeletal-looking-man with an easy smile.
“It is witchcraft. Witches and wizards are killing my children” he added angrily.
But it was not witchcraft that killed his children, they were HIV positive. Dr. Ngomfe David, a trained surgeon had diagnosed her with HIV/AIDS three days to the death of her son.
“She actually gave birth to the children when she was already HIV positive but she did not know since she has never had antenatal care” said Dr. Ngomfe.
“In fact she does not even know what antenatal care means. Her husband is equally infected” he added. Dr. Ngomfe is a native of the village but lives hundreds of kilometers away in the town. He said, from time to time, he comes for consultation but most of the pregnant women shy away.
There is no hospital in Lus, a village of over 5000 inhabitants. The closest district health center is located about 40 km away.
The android app that alerts pregnant women through sms alerts on their ante-natal and post natal care. Photo: Courtesy.
In most parts of rural Cameroon, pregnant women and new mothers have never heard of antenatal care (ANC) and post-natal care, Cameroon Journal (CJ) has learned. Women get pregnant and stay until labour and then an untrained traditional birth attendant comes and by some luck performs the risky delivery. Even in big cities, pregnant women stay away from antenatal consultation.
It was the case with Monique Koumate, a 31-year-old pregnant woman of blessed memory who made international headlines for the wrong reason. In March 2016, Monique who was pregnant with twins suffered severe labour complications and was rushed to the state-run Laquintinie hospital in Cameroon’s economic city, Douala. She was reportedly refused to be accorded medical attention immediately in spite of her critical situation because she could not pay her bills. The mother-of-two later died just feet from the hospital doors.
Graphic video showed an untrained and courageous woman performing an impromptu Cesarian section operation using razor blade on her in an attempt to save the babies. Her attempt was in vain; the children died with the mother.
Laquitinie hospital, infamous for disregarding patients and corruption bore most of the blame for the death of the mother and unborn twins but the mother of Monique told CJ, that Monique was sick and never went for antenatal consultation.
“She was falling sick from time to time when she was pregnant but we did not go for prenatal care because we thought it was not important and secondly we could not afford the bills” she said.
“She was so sick on the day that she died, maybe we would have prevented the tragedy if we knew before and go for prenatal consultation. But that does not cancel the fact that the hospital refused to attend to us on time. They could have saved her or the babies. My daughter was still breathing and they refused to treat her” Monique’s mother told CJ.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 64% of expectant and new mothers in the country don’t receive any medical check-ups during and after delivering a baby. Though it has been on the decline, Cameroon has one of the most shocking infant mortality rates in the world with an “alarming” maternal mortality rate according to UNICEF. Cameroon is ranked 18th amongst the 20 countries in the world with the highest mortality for children under the age of five, which stood at 53.43 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015. The country recorded more than 590 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births last year which is one of the highest ratios in both Africa and the world.
Women in Cameroon using the new SMS technology popularly known as the Gifted Mom to read alerts on their ante-natal and post natal care. Photo: Courtesy.
“More evils exist when it comes to maternal health care in Cameroon. Mothers are not given adequate information to sustain them throughout pregnancy. Some of them lose their premature babies because they were not incubated on time. Some get infections because their after-birth tears were not stitched. Some lose their babies right after they are born because midwives are too busy to attend to them. Some bleed to death because no medication is given to control abnormal bleeding. The list is just endless” said Precious Meshi Nkeih who has experienced firsthand the pain of a pregnant woman in Cameroon.
WHO recommends a minimum of four antenatal care visits. However, global estimates indicate that only about half of all pregnant women receive this recommended amount of care.
Antenatal care helps women prepare for delivery and understand warning signs during pregnancy and childbirth. It can be a source of micronutrient supplementation, treatment of hypertension to prevent eclampsia, immunization against tetanus, HIV testing, in addition to medications to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in cases of HIV-positive pregnant women, stated WHO.
“I could not go to the hospital because I did not know I have to visit hospital when I am sick. Pregnancy is not sickness. The hospital is far and I don’t have the means to go there and pay for my bills” said Linda, looking very worried and disturbed. Not to worry though, there is good news for Linda and other women in need of medical advice and care during and after pregnancy.
The good news is, thanks to technology, pregnant women can now actually have antenatal and post natal care without necessarily going to the hospital. Alain Nteff, a 29-year-old Cameroonian has created Gifted Mom, a mobile health service that notifies subscribed pregnant women and new mothers by SMS on when they should do their ANCs and tracks the vaccination programme of children less than 5 years, reminding their guardians on when and where to take their children for the next vaccine.
When Nteff was just a 20-year-old engineering student, he visited a hospital in rural Cameroon and was shocked to see babies and mothers die from conditions that could have been predicted and managed with proper antenatal care. Nteff was deeply affected by what he saw, and together with his friend, Conrad Tankou, a medical doctor himself, created Gifted Mom. Gifted Mom was endorsed by Queen Elizabeth of England in 2015 under the umbrella of the first Queens Young Leaders Award.
“I’m passionate about using technology to solve problems in my community, and I just saw it as an opportunity to apply my engineering to solve one of the world’s biggest and oldest problems. Maternal and infant mortality is a major public health problem” said Alain Nteff.
In Bambalang, a village in the North West region of Cameroon, a delighted Neola Tafa, recounted how the SMS service saved her life and her twins in early 2015.
“I was seriously sick and constantly vomiting when I was pregnant. I miscarried my first pregnancy and was very afraid that a similar thing will happen again” she then decided to subscribe to the mobile health service when a team from Gifted Mom visited the village and everything changed.
“I was receiving health information on where, when and what to do any time. I was deeply relieved. It was like a doctor was beside me all the time. I delivered safely and my two bouncing boys are now eight months old and I am still receiving information on how to take care of them and myself” she said with a broad smile.
According to Mounrina Moustapha of Gifted Mom, more than 10000 expectant and new mothers are using the mobile health system in Cameroon.
“We are in the process of expanding to Nigeria and other African countries” she said.
Registering is easy-a woman just has to text MOM to 8006 to receive a call back and get help signing up. Or, she can text a particular health question to the same number and get a reply from a doctor.
“Pregnant women carry the future generation and need appropriate care. Look at the case of Monique, it was very sad, maybe she would have been saved with her children if she had proper antenatal care to prevent any complications. With our Short Code Number, you can SMS and say ‘I am bleeding, should I go to hospital’ and our doctors will call you immediately. Monique could have done that if she knew and maybe she or her children would have been saved. Whether poor or rich, you can use the system. It’s free” said Moustapha.
According to Alain the SMS service has increased ANCs in hospitals that collaborate with them to 20 per cent in six months.
“We want to increase that figure to 60 per cent by the end of 2016. We need absolute collaboration from health workers in order to have a world free of maternal and infant deaths” he said.
In Lus, Linda Moloh died a few days after her son passed away leaving her sick husband behind. Perhaps an SMS would have saved her and her children if only she knew.
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