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Students create app to promote safe motherhood

By Njambi Wanjiku
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
A doctor helps a patient access services at the Shompole dispensary. Photo/COURTESY
In summary
    • Nelson Macharia and Timothy Gichia came up with the  M-Kaya app to connect pregnant women to doctors.
    • The name comes from  a Maa word referring to a girl wise beyond her years.
    • It was inspired by the inceasing number of maternal deaths, especially in marginalised areas.

The large number of maternal mortality in the country is damning. An estimated 33 per cent of women in Kenya’s marginalised communities die annually from birth-related complications such as haemorrhage (excessive bleeding), sepsis (a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection), ruptured uterus and eclampsia (a condition of high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine during pregnancy).

Lack of female empowerment, poor access to healthcare services, high levels of poverty and poor health infrastructure are to blame for these statistics. 

To help reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, Nelson Macharia, 23, a fourth year Public Health student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and Timothy Gichia, an Information Technology (IT) strategist, founded M-Kaya, a technological innovation geared towards safe motherhood in marginalised communities in Kenya and across Africa.

Poor infrastructure

M-Kaya seeks to incorporate technology in the health sector through an app that aims to bridge the gap between mother and doctor.

The elaborate software collects information such as the name of the girl or woman, age, telephone number or that of the next of kin and her exact area of residence and provides telemedicine communication and consultation between healthcare professionals and patients using text messages, data, enhanced Interactive Voice Responses (IVR) customised into Swahili and English languages, imaging or video functions of a mobile device. 

“The name M-Kaya comes from a Maa word Makaya, which essentially refers to a girl with wisdom beyond her years, although she may not know.

She may be flawed, but keeps her head up high and remains absolutely amazing. This upholds the women and girls from the Maasai community,” Macharia said.

M-Kaya was conceived when Macharia was doing his internship in 2017 at Magadi Hospital in Kajiado west region. He saw the need to elevate the health infrastructure in the community.

He did a documentary with two friends from school and got the idea of creating an app to keep track of a mother and her newborn for up to two years. He brought on board IT expert Gichia.

Nelson Macharia and Timothy Gichia, founders of the M-Kaya app. Photo/COURTESY

“I worked largely within the child welfare, prenatal and postnatal clinics and quickly realised that marginalised communities in Kenya are disproportionately affected by poor health coverage with women and children being the most vulnerable.

There is a huge struggle in hospital and medical service accessibility. Immunisations are conducted on Wednesdays, and most women journey overnight between one to two days to get to the facility.

All this occurs despite the harsh weather, where temperatures rise up to 45 degrees Celsius. Worse still, transport in Magadi is unreliable,” Macharia says.

M-Kaya aims to reduce maternal mortality, especially for girls who get pregnant at the age of 12 to 14 years.

Youth challenge winners

“The risk of maternal mortality is highest in adolescent girls under 15 and complications in pregnancy and childbirth are higher in girls aged 10-19 compared to women aged 20-24.

The innovation offers a straightforward solution to this predicament. M-kaya basically makes these essential services one button push away in such marginalised communities,” Macharia said.

In February 2019, Macharia and Gichia participated in The United Nations Children’s Fund’s (Unicef) Generation Unlimited (Gen-U) Youth Challenge, a global initiative aimed at unleashing the creativity of young people across the world by designing solutions to issues concerning them.

“The Gen-U initiative was adopted by world leaders at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly last year.

It serves as a global platform to identify and scale up solutions for young people to help them get the skills, education and employment they need to succeed in today’s world.

Thousands of young people participated in the challenge and we were lucky to have been selected as one of the five global winners from 32 finalist teams from 16 countries,” Macharia said.

In June 2019, the two held a two-day medical camp in Magadi at Shompole Dispensary, where over 200 patients attended.

“Although licensing M-Kaya and access to funds have been huge challenges, we often hold several medical camps in the region, where we are able to get the data on pregnant girls and women and monitor them for their antenatal clinics,” Macharia said.

Regional variations abound in maternal mortality figures across the country.

“The high maternal mortality figures are scary and a reflection of our healthcare system. I do not think Kenyans look at these issues critically.

Emerging public health leaders need to be equipped with the skills, commitment and vision to respond fully to the multiple causes and consequences of this threat,” Macharia said.

Macharia’s goal is to reduce preventable neonatal deaths by 70 per cent by the end of next year.

“A small fraction of mothers residing in marginalised areas receive skilled care or deliver in health facilities compared to 82 per cent of those living in urban areas.

Furthermore, only a quarter of uneducated women received skilled care compared to 85 per cent of mothers with secondary or higher education,” he adds.

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