Lead author Dr Marie Pedersen said: 'Stillbirth is one of the most neglected tragedies in global health today.'

Cape Town - A new invention, which will speed up diagnostics in third trimester pregnancies and reduce burdens on hospitals, could soon become an everyday feature at public healthcare facilities.

“The Umbiflow”, said Dr Richard Gordon from the Medical Research Council which was instrumental in its development, “is a tool specifically designed for low-cost settings where there is no ultrasound. It is an instrument to measure blood flow from the placenta in pregnant women in their third trimester.”

It was specifically designed for a midwife or nurse to diagnose developmental problems in the last trimester of pregnancy, so patients weren’t unnecessarily referred to other health-care facilities for ultrasounds.

A phase in the study will soon take place in Gauteng, but a study already completed in the Western Cape - at the Kraaifontein Midwife Obstetric Unit and Durbanville Clinic - showed that 43 percent of “small for gestational age” babies in the third trimester were confirmed as normal through use of the Umbiflow and therefore did not have to be referred to a better-equipped facility.

“This reduces the burden on hospitals,” said Gordon, “and is also very useful for late bookers, which are pregnant women who don’t present at any health-care facility whatsoever until they are in the third trimester of their pregnancy. As a result, there is no history or background.”

The study found, after all late bookers had had an Umbiflow evaluation, only seven percent were referred for complications. The remaining ones had normal outcomes.

This means that from a health economics perspective, it amounts to “a significant saving for the Department of Health and for patients themselves”.

Gordon confirmed that Umbiflow was one of eight innovations “under development” resulting from a partnership between the Medical Research Council, which is “engaged in local innovations to make an impact on the public health sector”, and Path, which is an international non-profit organisation involved in global health. The joint initiative is known as the Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA).

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said: “South Africa faces high rates of maternal and child mortality as well as HIV, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases. The national Department of Health’s strategic plan calls for reducing preventable child deaths and ensuring all mothers have access to antenatal, birth, and postpartum care. The GHIA partnership is a credible step in the right direction.”

Cape Times