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A click on the computer can help moms in Bangladesh

By Barbara Christiansen daily Herald - | Jul 21, 2015
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Women in Bangladesh wait their turns to be examined by a traditional birth attendant. New technology could save the lives of mothers and newborns. The public is invited to vote to help provide funding to develop that technology.

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A pregnant woman in Bangladesh is checked by a traditional birth attendant. Two out of three expectant mothers in the country use this alternative. Dr. Helen Feltovich of Utah Valley Regional Medical Center is working to make equipment available to help those with high risk get the assistance they need.

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Dr. Helen Feltovich of Utah Valley Regional Medical Center is working to make new technology available to birth attendants in Bangladesh. It would help identify those with high risk pregnancies and allow them to get help to deliver their babies safely.

PROVO – People in Utah County can help moms and babies in Bangladesh without ever having to travel to the country or even donating any money to a cause.

Dr. Helen Feltovich is a high-risk obstetrician at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo and has created a new project for equipment to help those in need.

The public can help her team get funding for the project by helping them be selected as a “People’s Choice Award” winner. They may log onto https://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/2015/414 to cast a vote.

There has not yet been any information given about how many finalists will receive funding. Voting must be completed by 2 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time on Wednesday.

Launched in 2011, the challenge is run by a partnership of organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Norwegian government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Canadian government, and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.

Janet Frank, spokeswoman for Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, said Feltovich has a passion for helping women and babies.

“Ever since she has come on our staff, she has been a leader in affecting the health of women throughout the country,” she said. “I have never seen anybody who has more passion for improving the health of pregnant women. She is pursuing it all the time — at the hospital or across the world.”

Feltovich has seen the problems firsthand.

“I went to Bangladesh last October,” she said. “I was to teach midwives in the field how to do gestational age dating in the field. They were collecting samples at time points during pregnancy. I oversaw the quality assurance for the group of PPB investigators.”

PPB is the Preventing Preterm Birth Initiative. It is composed of nine investigators who were granted funds from the Global Alliance for Prevention of Prematurity and Stillbirth, in partnership with the Gates Foundation.

“It’s very important that they know the exact gestational age of the pregnancy at the time of sample collection,” Feltovich said. “So I was brought on to oversee quality assurance for the ultrasound acquisitions, and to teach them how to measure the cervix, one way we predict preterm birth.”

She noticed the midwives were awkward in the way they held the ultrasound equipment they used, but they were more confident when they used their hands to ascertain the situation.

That led to her team creating imaging equipment that would be more comfortable for them to use.

“I designed a transducer that fits in the palm of the hand,” Feltovich said. “They can almost wear it. It will be intuitive.”

And perhaps the best thing is the ease of use.

“It requires no training at all in image interpretation,” she said. “The little screen just has arrows on it. It tells you where to move your hand and guides the individual on the acquisition of the data.”

One concern the expectant mothers in Bangladesh face is that only one in three has access to skilled care for delivery. The other two-thirds prefer TBAs, or traditional birth attendants. Some reasons for that include the physical distance involved in getting more skilled care, and the culture, which encourages the more traditional approaches.

If the TBAs have access to the portable ultrasound equipment, they can see things that increase risks and urge the mother to take precautions. It turns out that if the TBA indicates the need for more help, the mothers usually take that advice.

“It is a win-win-win all over the place,” Feltovich said.

But the reverse is also true.

“If you don’t know about them until you are in the middle of labor, it can be difficult,” she said.

In fact, it can be deadly for mother, baby or both.

“Because I love my Bangladesh colleagues, and I thought of this idea for a new type of transducer while I was there, we have developed a new project as a joint effort between Intermountain, Siemens Healthcare and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh,” Feltovich said.

“This proposal combines medical, engineering, and public health expertise in a unique global marriage of institutions,” the project summary says. “Assuming success in these objectives, we will scale up the intervention stepwise throughout Bangladesh and, ultimately, globally.”

The International Saving Lives at Birth program is part of an international effort to reduce the annual rate of 289,000 deaths of mothers, 2.8 million newborn deaths and 2.6 million stillbirths, according to Intermountain Healthcare.


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