The first thing I pulled out of the bag was the strip of condoms. As a happily married mother of four I can’t remember the last time I handled a strip of condoms, and I confess that they made me giggle. I was checking out the contents of the Maternova backpack I was bringing to Ethiopia, and was quickly informed that they were not included for that reason.
Upon learning that I would be traveling to Ethiopia as a New Media Fellow with The International Reporting Project to report on newborn health I had immediately reached out to my friends at Maternova. Maternal and Newborn health is what they do, particularly in low-resource settings, and I knew they would have some great insights as to what topics I might see on the trip. Part of our reporting will be from rural villages in Ethiopia where most births take place in the home, without a trained healthcare attendant. Maternova is headquartered in the state of Rhode Island where I live, but provides the leading global on-line resource for Governments, non-profits, and health care providers to access affordable healthcare solutions to save the lives of mothers, and newborns. I asked founder Meg Wirth to tell me about a few of the Maternova products that I was bringing on the trip, and how they are used to save lives.
Elizabeth Atalay: The condoms in the bag actually come with instructions on how to save a woman’s life from postpartum hemorrhage with the Condom Balloon Tamponade method. Can you talk a bit about the evolution of the CBT method?
Meg Wirth: Well listen, if someone needs a condom you should probably give it to them—because averting a pregnancy, as you know, can save a life too. But the condom also has another very intriguing use—a brand new condom can be used as a kind of do-it-yourself medical device to stop postpartum hemorrhage. We sent you with instructions! Rather than break it down step by step here, suffice it to say that the condom can be attached to a foley catheter and IV, filled with saline or water when inserted in a uterus post childbirth.. the pressure of the condom balloon can stop internal bleeding.
EA: I am also bringing the Maternova solar head lamp created for night birthing scenarios, can you remind me of the story you once told me about observing a night birth when you first introduced me to this product?
MW: Well that story wasn’t mine, but we hear stories every single week about birth occurring in the dark. While a normal birth may be fine in the dark, a complication or a hemorrhage create a serious problem because no one can manage the complication properly. A simple solar lamp allows task lighting to manage births but they also light the way for heroic midwives who are so often called out at night to remote places and could use light for their own safety.
EA: It is always been surprising to me that newborns in Sub-Saharan Africa can die from simply preventable causes like hypothermia. Two of the Maternova products I am bringing come in tiny packages, yet can be the difference between life and death of a newborn. Can you talk about the importance of the Sterile Foil Baby Bunting, and the Thermo Spot stickers?
MW: The ThermoSpot is a temperature indicator that, when stuck onto a newborn (in a very specific place) can signal—just with color—whether the infant is too cold. The face on the round sticker fades from green to black and indicates that the core temperature of the infant is far too low. Remember, the average villager in Ethiopia is not going to have a thermometer at the ready, and this amazing, re-usable, ultra low-cost device is a thermal indicator that can be ‘read’ just with color meaning the mom or father need not be numerate or literate. The mylar bunting is a very lightweight wrap to keep infants warm, particularly during transport or when separated from mothers. Both of these items are in major trials in Pakistan and Kenya though they are already in use in many settings.
EA: I recently learned that in Ethiopia most rural healthcare clinics do not have pregnancy tests available. Are women able to keep track of their cycles and pregnancies with the CycleBeads for family planning?
MW: Yes the CycleBeads can be used by anyone with a regular cycle to predict ovulation times!!! They are a very rapidly-spreading form of birth control.
EA: What are some of the issues of newborn health in Ethiopia that you and the Maternova team are interested in hearing about? What innovations should be keeping an eye out for?
MW: We are interested in local ‘fixes’ or ideas that nurses and midwives have come up with. Part of our mission is to spread innovation more rapidly and if we can learn from them and spread the messages quickly we’d be thrilled. See if they have working blood pressure cuffs in the clinics. See if they have magnesium sulfate. What about misoprostol? How do they stop postpartum hemorrhage?
EA: I will definitely be looking to see what innovative solutions the midwives have developed in their communities and share what I see. Just a few days into the trip we have already been gaining real insight into the Maternal and Newborn landscape here in Ethiopia. Despite the lack of resources, there seems to be a real commitment to preventative measures and education so I’m excited to bring the Maternova products to midwives we are meeting with later this week!
MW: Thank you for your work Elizabeth!!
I am in Ethiopia for two weeks with The International Reporting project on a New Media Fellowship to report on Newborn Health.