News – Hemoglobe device and mobile technology a solution for global maternal anemia
The effects of suboptimal maternal haemoglobin levels on perinatal outcome have been well studied in numerous cohorts around the world. Child-bearing women who are anaemic (defined as a haemoglobin level of less than 11 grams per decilitre) are at risk of preterm delivery, having babies of low birth weight, neonatal APGAR scores of less than 5 at 1 minute and most significantly are at increased risk of fetal death in utero. The prevalence of anemia (most commonly iron deficiency anemia) is highest among pregnant women due to the increasing demands of the growing fetus. It has been estimated that 49% of pregnant women and 45% of children under five are affected by iron-deficiency anemia, which equates to approximately 150,000 maternal and 700,000 newborn deaths annually.
A group of biomedical engineering undergraduate students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, America have possibly contrived the solution for global maternal anemia: Hemoglobe, which is a non-invasive device connected to a mobile phone to estimate the haemoglobin level of the user. With the burgeoning use of mobile phone devices amongst health care workers in remote locations around the globe, the detection of pregnant mothers with anaemia is a close reality with field testing of this new device planned for communities in Kenya early next year. Hemoglobe functions by the principle of absorption spectrophotometry: the sensor is placed over the patient’s fingertip and different wavelengths of light are emitted, which are then absorbed by the red blood cells in the capillaries. The device then measures the degree of light absorption and this transmits to a program on the mobile device to calculate the haemoglobin level.
Estimated costs to produce the device are around the vicinity of US 10 to 20 dollars. The technology is not new as other medical device companies such as Masimo have developed similar devices, however the software connected to the HemoGlobe will also send an automated message to a clinical centre. Thus health workers are able to determine which areas have the highest prevalence and direct resources accordingly from something as simple as iron supplementation to expediting a review at the nearest clinic. As one of the developers Greenbaum states, the technology is now functional, but: “now, we have a greater challenge: to prove that it can have a real impact by detecting anemia and making sure the mothers get the care they need.”
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 Tamrat T. ‘Special delivery: an analysis of mHealth in maternal and newborn health programs and their outcomes around the world.’ Maternal Child Health Journal. 2011 Jun. (online)