Helping half a million pregnant women in Nigeria get better antenatal care with a portable ultrasound device

The Vscan Access portable ultrasound technology coupled with training and capacity building for healthcare workers is expected to help 560,000 expectant Nigerian women by 2020

For many pregnant women, ultrasound scans are an exciting part of their pregnancy. Most women in developed countries receive at least two ultrasound scans during pregnancy – one to confirm the due date, and one around 20 weeks to confirm normal fetal anatomy and the sex of the baby. If there are health concerns for the mother or baby, additional scans will be ordered by the doctor to ensure a healthy delivery. However, in much of Africa, ultrasound scans aren’t as common – which has a dramatic impact on maternal and fetal health. Every day in Nigeria, 257 babies die within their first month of life, and 40,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes each year. Although Nigeria has cut the rate of maternal deaths by almost half since 1990, its rate of maternal and infant mortality is still 30 and 15 times higher, respectively, compared with the United States and Europe, and it ranks #1 for maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these deaths could be prevented by using ultrasound to detect complications early. That’s why GE Healthcare partnered with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID/Nigeria) on the “Healthymagination Mother & Child Initiative” (HMCI) to reduce the number of preventable child and maternal deaths in Nigeria. The program commenced implemention in 2017 and, by 2020, the HMCI is expected to help 560,000 expectant Nigerian women through 1.1 million antenatal scans and 31,000 hours of training and mentoring for 360 midwives and antenatal primary caregivers. The program has trained midwives and other frontline healthcare workers who routinely administer antenatal care services in four Nigerian states to use GE Healthcare’s Vscan Access portable ultrasound machine. These healthcare workers are able to use GE portable ultrasound to visualize and measure the anatomical structures and fluid for application in obstetrics as well as general abdominal imaging. In January 2018, GE Healthcare launched the Mentoring and Monitoring and Grading phases of the program to provide additional physical and remote coaching to all previously trained healthcare workers, plus image quality and competency assessments from trainer-mentors to ensure skill retention and support. “Since beginning scanning in my facility, many women have come for scans and I have identified several kinds of complications in obstetrics,” says user Jayeola Adeyinka in Ondo State of Nigeria. “I detected a multiple pregnancy that was immediately referred to a secondary facility. When I called the patient some weeks later, she said one of the babies had died in the womb and since it was found out on time, they operated on her and removed the second baby so the remaining baby wasn’t affected by infection. I was happy that the scan saved one child and the mother’s health.” Developed to equip clinicians in remote areas with imaging capabilities at the point-of-care, Vscan Access is a portable ultrasound tool that provides caregivers with an immediate, non-invasive method to visualize what’s happening inside the body. It is about the size of a tote handbag, allowing antenatal care providers to take it from room to room for use in many clinical, hospital or primary care settings. The HMCI program has created a shift in perception about ultrasound scans, from a perceived luxury to an attainable necessity. HMCI provides scans free of charge or at very low cost ($0.69) to pregnant women, which is especially important for women in rural areas. “When I heard of the free scanning, I came first and saw it was true. After I did the scan and took the result, I told much of my friends and family and they also went. Since it is more affordable, we started going more for scans. We are grateful,” says patient Amina Yusuf in Bauchi State. Scans typically cost 3,000 Nigerian Naira, or about $8.33, which is prohibitively expensive in Nigeria. “Scanning is usually very expensive. We also had to take transport to get to secondary hospitals. Now it is easy and we can get scans close by and free,” says patient Fumni Oladele.