EHAS Foundation. Healthy Pregnancy Program
TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: JESÚS ANTÓN
The EHAS Foundation was created at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Specifically, in the School of Telecommunications Engineering. From there they set about using Information and Communication Technologies to enhance health care provision in rural areas of developing countries. Fundación MAPFRE wished to recognize one of their foremost projects, Healthy Pregnancy in Guatemala. Over the past five years, this has enabled more than 16,000 women to be treated. These percentages reveal to what a degree it has been a success: neonatal mortality has been reduced by almost 40 percent, and that of the mothers by 35 percent in the intervention areas, namely the Guatemalan departments of Alta Verapaz and San Marcos. To learn more about the foundation and this project, we talked at length with its director, Ignacio Prieto.
What does your work in Madrid entail?
We develop networks, engineering designs… and then we travel to countries such as Guatemala or Peru and set up pilot projects to implement our solutions, strive to gage their impact and learn from any mistakes we may possibly have committed.
The award you have received is for your Healthy Pregnancy program in Guatemala. Why pregnancies?
Because, according to the World Health Organization, some 830 women and over 7,000 newborns die each day around the world from pregnancy or childbirth related complications. Most are due to preventable causes and can be easily identified with the resources we possess in the first world, yet are totally absent in rural environments, such as ultrasound scans or blood tests. We have developed a system that enables these tools to reach those areas where women do not have access to them. We can thus identify pregnancies which entail some kind of risk so that they can be prevented, with the women being taken to hospital and treated appropriately, avoiding the lives of the baby or mother being placed at risk.
That system is a kit. What does it consist of?
It is a backpack containing a laptop computer and a kit that connects to the laptop to do the ultrasound. We complement this with a solar panel and a battery to power the equipment for several days, given that there is no electricity in these areas; and with blood and urine strip tests to swiftly screen for HIV, syphilis, anemia… We can thus offer an analysis similar to that available in the first world. In this way, pregnant women can have access to top-quality prenatal care. Until now, they only had access to nurses who visited their communities and who could do little more than a palpation or auscultation.
On a trip to the native country of Andrés, our previous director contacted a local NGO with a philosophy similar to ours (technology applied to health). This led to exploring synergies, they told us about the situation of women there and we started collaborating. We work wherever we find local partners with whom we can carry out our projects.
But you not only provide this equipment, you also provide training for those nurses, don’t you?
It’s not just a question of bringing a gadget or two; we also have to train the nurses so they are able to identify the risks, providing them with the tools to do so. What’s more, the ultrasound system collects the data so that a specialist from the urban area – or even Spain – can later monitor the patients’ progress.
This award means a lot to you, I imagine.
For a start, it’s an opportunity to promote our work and reach more women. And, of course, we are glad of this recognition, as we believe a lot of good work is being done by all those involved. But we also feel that our results should be put out there so that other organizations can copy us and replicate this project.
What is the most rewarding aspect of this work?
Being on the ground, going to the communities and talking to the people involved there. Both the nurses and the pregnant women. The former are highly motivated, while the latter are really grateful for having an ultrasound scan of their baby. Basically, this is a right they have, but one which is unfortunately not universally guaranteed.
Have you traveled recently?
The last time we were there was in March and, yes, it’s really fantastic. The testimonies of the nurses are tremendous. Many of them are elderly women who had never used a computer or ultrasound scanner before, and were a bit unsure at first. However, over time, as the project has advanced, they are the first to come forward, asking us for more backpacks for other communities and wanting to know more. Hearing the testimonies of these nurses is truly moving.