WinSenga expands access to prenatal care in Africa with smartphone-based ultrasound alternative
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It’s immense, the moment an ultrasound lets an expectant mother hear her unborn child’s heartbeat. But many pregnant women around the world never get to experience it.
In many countries prenatal care is a costly, complicated, uneven endeavor. In Uganda, the government recommends four prenatal visits for pregnant mothers, though women – especially those who live in rural areas – don’t always have the money, time or means to travel to see a doctor at a medical center. They often look to local midwives for help, but midwives don’t always have access to modern medical equipment.
A group of young, African developers recently decided to use technology to take aim at this problem. Their company, Cipher256, created a smartphone-based ultrasound called WinSenga, an affordable fetoscope that plugs into a mobile phone and is operated using an app. In the past, expectant mothers had to imagine what doctors and midwives heard as they listened to their baby’s heartbeat through old-fashioned devices. The WinSenga device lets doctors and midwives more easily monitor the health of a fetus, but it also lets mothers in on the experience, allowing them to have a listen as the gentle whir of their baby’s heart is piped through headphones.
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“It’s not just a great way to track the health of the pregnancy and raise awareness if there are problems. It brings peace of mind for the mothers. Mothers always want to hear their baby’s heartbeat,” said Joshua Okello, co-founder and team leader for Cipher256.
“It gives them assurance that the baby is really fine,” added Edmund Ainebyona, general manager for Cipher256. “It also makes them happy.”
WinSenga got its start a few years ago when the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition inspired then-university students Okello and Aaron Tushabe to use their computer science skills to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. They were moved by the plight of mothers who live outside the reach of modern medical care.
In 2013, an estimated 3 million newborn deaths and more than 2 million stillbirths were registered worldwide along with 200,000 maternal deaths, Okello said.
“Guess where the majority of these are recorded? Developing countries. But where exactly? Over 60 percent of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa. If you actually do the math, most of Africa’s 1.2 billion population lives in that particular area,” Okello said.
By improving the experience for expectant mothers, and possibly even the outcome of pregnancies, the team hopes they can “turn over a new leaf” in Africa – and beyond.
“Mothers are actually the cornerstone of every African community I know of. Every statistic shows that healthy mothers in any community means better education levels, better socioeconomic development for the entire community – a better future,” Okello said.
Added Ainebyona: “We ultimately believe WinSenga will be able to cross borders and help other countries facing the same problems.”