Researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) have developed a low-cost Doppler ultrasound device that will be used by nurses at primary healthcare clinics.
The ultrasound device is called Umbiflow and it is used to monitor the umbilical blood flow between the pregnant mother and the foetus. The umbilical blood flow provides nutrition to the foetus.
Umbiflow can be used to assess foetuses considered to be small for their development stage in the womb.
According to Jeremy
Wallis, who heads up the team that developed Umbiflow, the device was initially tested in a Mamelodi clinic, and the results showed that it could reduce the stillbirth rate by 50 percent.
“Currently, clinical trials funded by the SAMRC are ongoing in nine provinces across the country. We are also running international clinical trials in Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Gambia, and India, and these are being funded by the World Health Organisation. An additional study has taken place in Pakistan, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” said Wallis.
Wallis said the CSIR is in discussions with the National Department of Health about the device’s impact and once the clinical evidence has been verified, the department will need to update its basic antenatal care protocol which will pave the way for the widespread rollout of the device in South Africa.
“The benefits of this device will go a long way in improving healthcare for pregnant women and unborn babies in rural and low-resource primary healthcare settings,” he said. Doppler measurement of umbilical blood flow is currently being used by specialists in tertiary hospitals and the private sector.
With the new research being coducted by the CSIR, nurses in primary healthcare clinics will also be able to use the device.The CSIR’s Dr Rachel Chikwamba said it is critical to be able to make the distinction between a foetus that is naturally small and one that is small because of medical reasons.
“This is critical in decongesting our primary healthcare services. For example, if the foetus is small because it is just small then there is no need to refer the mother upwards in the healthcare hierarchy, but if the baby is small because there is a problem then the mother can urgently be referred to get the necessary medical attention,” said Dr Chikwamba.