Kenya: Midwives Bring Portable Ultrasound Technology to Remote Communities in Kenya

A midwife examines a pregnant woman using the portable ultrasound device. © UNFPA Kenya

MFANGANO ISLAND, Kenya – In her four years at Sena Health Centre, midwife Goretti Adhiambo has seen too many lives lost to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. “We provide all the basic maternal health services at the health centre including antenatal care, but complicated cases have to be referred to the mainland hospital for specialized care,” she explained.

Her health centre is located on the remote Mfangano Island in Kenya’s Homa Bay County. Reaching the mainland town of Mbita for treatment requires at least an hour’s boat ride – two, if the waters are choppy. During an obstetric emergency, this delay can be deadly.

In 2018, Ms. Adhiambo treated a young woman with labour complications. The woman was referred to the mainland for specialized care but died while being ferried to Mbita. “She was barely 18 years old, and to lose such a young life was very painful for my colleagues and me,” Ms. Adhiambo recalled.

Today, Ms. Adhiambo is the midwife in charge, overseeing the care of expectant mothers and newborns. And she has a new tool in her arsenal that can help identify complications long before they become life-threatening: an ultrasound device.

Putting tools in the hands of midwives

For years, pregnant women on Mfangano Island have had to travel to the mainland not only for emergency obstetric care, but also for diagnostic services as simple as an obstetric ultrasound screening. Such tools are often only available at specialist health facilities located in major towns and urban areas. As a result, pregnancy complications are often only identified at great effort and expense, too late for treatment, or not at all.

But this is starting to change.

Through a partnership between UNFPA, AMREF International University and the Phillips Foundation, portable ultrasound technology – and the training to go with it – are being made available to midwives from far-flung health centres in remote parts of Kenya.

Ms. Adhiambo and others recently learned how to use the portable machine, known as the Lumify Probe, from experienced sonographers who guided them on skills including: confirming whether a pregnancy is viable, visualizing and recognizing the number of fetuses, identifying where in the uterus the placenta is, and detecting the position of a fetus. By being able to spot issues, such as breech position of the fetus or multiple pregnancy, midwives are able to provide better advice, monitoring and referrals.