By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Maternal and neonatal mortality remains high in Cameroon and many parts of the world. This situation is explained, in part, by factors like delays in diagnosis and management of obstetrical emergencies, limited access to a standard of care services and qualified healthcare personnel as well as malpractice. Concerted action from a wide variety of stakeholders is required, to bring improvements on a public health scale.
It was in that light that the Nkafu Policy Institute, a think tank of the Denis and Lenora Foretia Foundation organized a session on the theme: “Obstetrical Emergencies: improving Optimal-Care response Time through Digital Health Services within the framework of the Bornfyne Mobile App project.
The health experts have recommended the use of healthcare tools that can ease delivery looking at the rate of maternal and neonatal mortality in Cameroon. The availability of skilled medical personnel in rural areas should also be considered as most of these deaths are mostly found in rural areas where the skilled medical personnel shy away.
“… We are expecting about 15 per cent of women who are pregnant, who initially had no medical condition to develop a condition…” said Dr Philbert Eko, Obstetrician/Gynecologist, Regional Delegate of Public Health, South West Region, Cameroon. “As of now, we are talking of about 406 maternal deaths in Cameroon per one hundred thousand births – which means all these are related to obstetrical complications. That is where we are to tell you that we are facing a serious problem. Cameroon is one of those countries with the highest maternal mortalities.”
Dr Philbert Eko added: “We still have high maternal deaths as compared to WHO standards. 15 per cent of natural complications that exist, when they come to our hospitals, we are not ready. We don’t have staff that is more competent to handle some of these complications. We also have cultural, and religious situations that inhibit women to go to the hospital when they have complications. You may be having a problem but it takes two to three days for them to decide whether you go to the hospital or not. The geographical disposition is also a factor that increases our maternal mortality rate…”
The current role and potential of digital health services to improve public health service delivery is also being recognized and digital innovation hubs are springing up and rising to this challenge. Some of the causes of the present emergencies in Cameroon that could take the lives of the mothers or the fetus can be linked with hypertensive diseases in pregnancy that may lead to other diseases.
Dr Crysantus Nzometia, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology said: “We have haemorrhage which is one of the principal causes – A women who may bleed in the cause of her pregnancy or during delivery or after delivery and which may take her life. We also have infections and in the end, the woman may find herself in the mortuary instead of going back home with her baby.”
Discussions centred on discussing models to improve access to information for pregnant women and healthcare providers through digital health services; Reviewing the presence and impact of digital health tools in the domain of maternal and child health services and Creating platforms to bring digital service developers and policymakers for uptake of digital health services for maternal and child care.
Born Fyne is an app to monitor the health parameters of pregnant women in Cameroon. The app uses functions like recording details, scheduling prenatal visits and creating awareness on issues like family planning, preeclampsia, Covid-19 precautions etc. Cameroon has a maternal mortality ratio of 529 per 100,000 live births and during Covid-19, countries across the globe recorded an increase of eight to 38.6 per cent in their maternal mortality ratio.
“I don’t know how ready our health systems are to handle the emergencies,” Dr Mediatrice Niendum, MPH and Public Health Expert in Health Economics and Health Equity said.
“In the context of Cameroon, most of the rural deaths occur in rural communities where most skilled birth attendants most run away from – everybody wants to practice in town. The health system in the country is not built in a way that everybody is at the same level. Because of this, those who do not have the resources may end up with obstetric emergencies. Until we can overcome these differences, then we should know that we are at a level that our maternal mortality will be high.”