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EAC Digital Pioneers - Saving lives of unborn children through a heart rate monitoring belt

Another round of successful internships of students from the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA) has been completed. And there are more success stories to tell. For the 2nd cohort, we focused on Christina from Tanzania and Armel from Burundi. Now it is time to learn about Christina’s experience at the Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute (KCRI) in Moshi, Tanzania. 

Christina Mariki has always been inspired to work on digital innovations in the area of maternal health. This is why, when it was time for the internship during her Master’s at CENIT@EA, she thought of KCRI right away. Now, a few months later, she can proudly point at her own innovation – a fetal heart monitoring belt for pregnant women that might go a long way in reducing the number of still births in the EAC region.

Christina is a Tanzanian ICT-expert, who started her Master’s in Embedded and Mobile Systems (EMoS) at CENIT@EA/Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in 2020. Before this, Christina had already worked for three years in a clinical research institute for malaria projects on pregnant women. She notes, “This work gave me the inspiration to work more in the field of maternal health.”

Asked, why she decided to join university, Christina stresses, “I saw a gap in my work and the methods that I used to obtain data. I applied for the Master’s to close this gap. With the knowledge of EMoS, you can create innovations to retrieve data remotely – like my belt. The studies have helped me a lot in using ICT knowledge to reach communities directly where they are.”

This knowledge was now put to use at KCRI, which is responsible for Clinical Research in Northern Tanzania with a focus on clinical trials as well as treatment and prevention methods. Also, KCRI has an existing facility that helps pregnant women by monitoring mother & child wellbeing when they are away from the health facilities.

Still, the idea Christina had in mind was not yet existent. Her innovation – a belt that is to be worn by pregnant women – focuses on monitoring fetal heart rate. It also collects data on both mother & child temperature and oxygen saturation level while capturing the geographical location of the mother in case of emergency. In Tanzania, so far, mainly fetal stetoscopes as well as doppler machines are used to monitor the same – and they cannot be used remotely. For Christina, this is a big problem as she notes, “There is a clear need to improve the fetal heart rate monitoring procedure remotely to increase safety of the unborn child.”

While Christina’s monitoring belt needs a constant internet connection, the mother can also see the data on screen without connectivity. This way, even in remote areas, she can call for support without needing to go to the hospital first. Up to now, pregnant women in Tanzania only come to the hospital once a month for a routine visit. Therefore, certain complications might go undetected for some time leading to stillbirths.

Christina’s prototype has already been tested during her internship. If it will go into a trial phase in 2022 it would be the first of its kind being launched from Tanzania instead of from big international universities as Christina points out. To start a clinical trial phase, the ethical approval by the Tanzanian Government is still outstanding. Currently, Christina is working on her prototype application paper.

Dr. Third Mpende of the Joint Malaria Programme (JMP), a collaborative research programme, sees a lot of potential in the monitoring belt. “It will be of much help to the medical field workers and the low-income community here in Tanzania. It’s very unique, I hope this technology will be used to rescue unborn children and their mothers.”

Last but not least, Kennedy Ngowi, Christina’s host supervisor and head of KCRI’s ICT Department, is more than happy with Christina’s achievements during her internship. “Christina has immersed herself in an academic setting to establish a unique health concerns solution for maternity cases. Therefore, I hope there will be a scalability plan to ensure this proof of concept won’t be kept on the shelves.”

We are sure that it will not, but instead can help to save lives not only in Tanzania, but the whole EAC region.

Background: 

dSkills@EA, implemented by GIZ together with the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) as part of the German Government support to the East African Community, is proud to have made a remarkable impact in the upskilling and training of young professionals in digital skills relevant to the industry’s needs across the six EAC Partner States via its support to CENIT@EA.

The fully-funded Master’s programme in embedded and mobile systems at CENIT@EA is a distinct example of skills development for the digital transformation of the industry in East Africa. The collaboration between academia and industry has been one of the unique components of the programme, ensuring the quality of a practice-oriented teaching and industry-proven curriculum that enabled CENIT@EA students to transfer knowledge to the industry through internships.

dSkills@EA will continue to ensure that young EAC citizens' employment and innovation-related digital skills are strengthened in continuous efforts to increase support to youth development in the region.

Find more information on the Master's Programme and the possibility to apply under www.cenit-ea.org.


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