Global health challenge: improving mother and child healthcare

Helen Mendes

Helen Mendes
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Women in developing countries are at a greater risk of having pregnancy related complications that lead to death. Every year, half a million women die from those complications.

“That means one woman dying every minute,” says Patricia Garcia, president of the Latin American Association to Control STI (ALACITS) and a recognised leader in global health, during IAP’s conference in Rio de Janeiro. “In developing countries, the risk of dying is 100 times  higher, compared to rich countries,” she adds.

She drew attention to the topic of maternal and child health during the Challenge Lab ‘Improving global health’, which took place on the second day of the conference.  Most pregnancy related deaths can be prevented with good antenatal care, which includes a package of laboratory tests to detect diseases and complications like HIV, syphilis and eclampsia – the leading cause of maternal and fetal mortality.

“Unfortunately, in developing countries we lack labs, trained persons and tests,” said Garcia. She presented the challenge of how to improve maternal health and child survival with appropriate diagnostic technology.

One of the tools that can help tackling this problem is point-of-care testing. These are diagnostic tests that can be made by a care provider at the site of patient care, and allow the care team to have the results in a timely manner, improving the provision of services on maternal and child health.

Garcia considers that the biggest problem today is the lack of a single test that can diagnose eclampsia early enough, and believes that point of care tests can be a solution. These should be easy to use, accessible, reliable, environmentally friendly and ideally in one package.

In order to have them available to diagnose the top causes of maternal health problems, a multidisciplinary effort is needed. In the group discussion, participants talked about the need of different actors coming together to solve this problem: people working in labs, social workers, policymakers, and also engineers and designers, who could design a test that’s easy to use and interpret, including by people who may not be doctors or may be illiterate.

Participants also stressed the need of educating women, healthcare providers, researchers and funders on the issue.

This blog post is part of our coverage of 2013 Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) conference which takes place 24-26 February 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

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