Google has announced a new tool to help assess geographic access to emergency obstetric (EmOC) care. This is a broader effort to help decision-makers, governments, and public health organisations in Nigeria address the gaps in accessing health services where facilities are limited.
According to the WHO, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day, totalling 282,000 deaths yearly; more than 70% of these deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Nigeria alone contributing 82,000.
Evidence shows that long travel times from home to a health facility significantly impact pregnancy outcomes for mothers and newborns, and timely access to emergency obstetric care (EmOC) can reduce maternal deaths and intrapartum stillbirths by as much as 50% and 75%, respectively. But current approaches to estimating the time expectant mothers take to reach EmOC are limited.
“In Lagos, recent research has shown that 60 per cent of maternal deaths occurred in pregnant women who travelled less than 10 kilometres directly from their places of abode to hospitals where they received care,” OnTIME Principal Investigator Dr. Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas disclosed at a stakeholders’ meeting with healthcare practitioners in partnership with Google
“For pregnant women who were referred, a distance of 25 kilometres and travel time of more than 10 minutes were significantly associated with maternal death as research evidence shows that even 10 minutes of travel for a pregnant woman in an emergency doubles the odds of her baby being born dead, otherwise known as a stillbirth.
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Google’s EmOC Dashboard
The tool uses Google’s internal directions Application Programming Interface (API) to estimate the travel time to the nearest, second nearest and third nearest EmOC facilities across specific regions in the country.
It also builds on a dataset Google released in 2021 that revealed the average travel times to COVID-19 vaccination facilities. Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard School for Public Health in Massachusetts used that dataset to help identify “vaccine desserts” and inform vaccination efforts.
Google also collaborated with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to quantify geographic access to parks across nearly 500 metropolitan areas in six countries: Estonia, France, Greece, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States.
With the OnTIME Consortium’s contribution of verified emergency obstetric care facilities, the tool by Google shows decision makers how quickly expectant mothers can access emergency obstetric care in Nigeria’s 15 largest cities: Aba, Abuja, Benin City, Ibadan, Ilorin, Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Maiduguri, Onitsha, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Uyo, and Warri.
Using the information gathered on the tool, decision-makers can expand ambulatory services, make road improvements, add new facilities or upgrade existing ones, and more.
“We are excited to collaborate with the OnTIME Consortium, a partnership of policymakers, doctors, and researchers focused on improving care for expecting mothers, to make this tool available to decision makers in Nigeria”, said Olumide Balogun, Google Nigeria, Interim Lead.
“This digital dashboard will be a critical tool in the arsenal of service planners and policymakers looking at optimizing geographical accessibility to critical maternal health services as well as those keen to understand contributions of travel time to poor maternal and perinatal outcomes,” said OnTIME Principal Investigator Dr Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas, a physician, public health practitioner, and Associate Professor of Maternal and Newborn Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“What we intend to do going forward is to see how to develop this digital dashboard beyond what it is right now. We want to be able to capture and incorporate other services apart from the Caesarian Section, which is what we’ve looked at now and these include blood transfusion, assisted vaginal delivery as packages of care services that have limited accessibility to pregnant women. All of those are things we want to incorporate into the dashboard in the future,” he added.
“We hope that governments and public health organizations will use this tool to better support the health of their communities, by helping mothers and infants access care more quickly. We’re looking forward to learning from our rollout in Nigeria, and expanding to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in the coming months”, Balogun says.
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