Pedro in Ghana
​Pedro doing simulations with the app, with a community health nurse and a patient.

Student project aim to improve maternal health care in Ghana

​Pedro Pagalday went to Ghana to do his master's thesis in Biomedical Engineering. He spent six months with thorough research and development of a tool to support the care of pregnant women.
What are you doing in Ghana, Pedro?

I am trying to help healthcare workers to identify high risk pregnancies, so that the women in risk can seek professional healthcare. A lot of women in remote areas of Ghana receive very limited healthcare. Even though they meet with health workers, the lack of equipment means they are not undergoing any examinations.

Why is it important?

A number of women in Ghana die because they have high risk pregnancies that has been overlooked, and then the help does not arrive in time. This is where eHealth solutions have the potential to improve the healthcare in areas that lack healthcare personnel and/or traditional equipment.

What is the result of your thesis?

After an initial study of gathering the needed information, the second part of my work has been to develop a prototype of the app. This has been done in close collaboration with the health workers.

The app provides a tool to gather patient history, vitals and signs of high risk pregnancies and, based on the information – the app serves as a decision support system. It is designed as a guidance tool, which gives the health workers information on what to do in each situation if symptoms are detected. For instance, how to treat the patient on the way to the hospital. And finally, it contains some education materials about the signs and symptoms of high risk pregnancies, and nutrition advice.

The app is connected to a cloud service that stores the information, however, due to connectivity problems the app has to work offline (which it does) and when it detects a network, it uploads and downloads the patient information.

Explaining how the app works to one midwive.Are you happy with the results?

Well, yes! The key to the whole project has been the collaboration with health workers, who provided very valuable information, and the support of the local health authorities that facilitated the research.

The health workers satisfaction with the prototype have been extremely high, they value the simplicity of the solution, how the solution introduces the same format in an electronic form as they have in paper forms. They stated that the solution will have its highest impact in the poorest communities and during community visits.

Additionally, not only is the solution important but also how the project have been carried out. We believe, that the methodology can be used to implement eHealth solutions in Ghana to improve maternal health or taking cautions in other parts of Africa. That is why, the solution is open source and the results are aiming to be published in open source journals where everybody can access them.

Has there been any interesting challenges on the way?

Obviously, working in such an interesting place and culture always brings challenges. And the main challenge has been to create a trusted relationship with the health workers and authorities to make sure they give their true opinion. In Ghana, people do not usually say no, so I faced situations where the health workers didn’t understanding what I wanted but they kept saying yes, and I thought that they actually agreed with me. It was very important to be able to identify these situations, which took me a while. 

What are your plans now?

I am exploring different possibilities, either trying to get a PhD student position, or work,... I don't know yet, but I will probably take a summer holiday here in Ghana and try to find a way to move forward with this project. The only thing I know is that I want to work with eHealth applications for developing countries in connection with development work. I love Africa and there are so many things that can be done here to improve people’s lives, and that is my goal.

The master’s thesis has been supervised by Bengt Arne Sjöqvist, Ants Silberberg and Ruben Buendia from the Department of Signals and Systems.

Pedro Pagalday will present his master’s thesis on June 14, 2016.

Focus group discussion to discuss the features needed in the app.

Traditional Birth Attendant with kids in one of the Lake Islands. The women in the area prefer to give birth with the aid of Traditional Birth Attendants. These are community members living close to them and are highly respected. However, they do not have any formal medical training.

Published: Tue 03 Jul 2018.