Liberia: WhatsApp Method to be Used in Reducing Maternal Mortality During C-Section

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MONROVIA – Researchers at the University of Liberia, the University of Michigan and the University of Ghana, are working together to ensure that expectant mothers in Liberia have a safer childbirth experience through the connective power of WhatsApp. The researchers said during emergencies, cesarean sections, also known as C-Sections can be a life-saving procedure, in areas with poor access to surgical facilities; moms and babies remain at risk.  

Owing it to the fact that Liberia has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, COVID has made access to maternity wards even more difficult due to strict transportation bans, closed health facilities and reassigned staff.             

“Liberia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Many of the leading medical causes of death, including obstructed labor, are preventable if the women were more quickly referred to higher level care centers where life-saving procedures like cesarean sections can be safely performed,” Said Dr. Jody Lori of the University of Michigan, U.S. in a communication.

Dr. Lori will implement a WhatsApp platform for medical staff and community health workers in rural areas in Liberia to communicate with staff at larger hospitals to accelerate the referral and treatment of obstetric emergencies. And with the new funding from the Grand Challenges program, researchers will be piloting a new program to connect community health workers with hospital staff in one central chat platform to decrease referral times, fast-track emergencies and make childbirth safer.

Explaining about the platform on the Liberian side, Dr. Bernice Dahn, Vice President / Academic Dean at the State-run University of Liberia, College of Health Science, said they are testing their approach at two hospitals and 20 clinics in Bong County.

 Speaking to FPA in an interview at her Office, the A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine and Health Sciences Compound in Congo Town, she said they have chosen two referral hospitals CB Dunbar and Phebe in Bong County and 20 rural clinics.

“We are training community health workers also known as Community health Assistants, to better identify obstetric emergencies and refer them on using the WhatsApp platform. At the referral hospital, they will implement an additional triage system to decrease the decision-to-delivery time for women requiring cesarean section, as well as ensuring the women are aware of and involved in the medical decisions,”

When questioned about the poor internet facility in Liberia and the difficulties of citizens in hard to reach place, getting access to the WhatsApp platform or a closer health facility, she answered:

“We already have digital means at community health levels and at the moment, the ministry of health has already digitized some of the materials the Community health workers are to be using for training patients for referrer. So when they cannot manage a case they will report to their supervisor who is either a physician Assistant or Registered nurse, who will advice them to refer the case either to the county hospital or further. Some of these community health assistants are working in very hard to reach places, where people have to walk two hours to a nearest health care. We should have more than 4,000 community health Assistants in the Country,” 

Dr. Dahn clarified that cesarean sections won’t be done by way of WhatsApp in a clinic but the platform is to create an avenue for Community health workers who are trained to watch for those signs shown by pregnant women who are to due to be refer to a referrer hospital quickly during their crisis period to undergo the surgical procedure.  

 In terms of dollars and cents in running the platform, and if the Liberia Government will provide the funding, Dr. Dahn said the entire project will be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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