While many of us in the United States of America take advantage of our smartphone apps for conveniences which include online banking, social networking, and reading our favorite blogs, women in Uganda have recently started utilizing their smartphones for more basic healthcare related functions- testing for vaginal infections. Thanks to Vaginosis Her Health/BVkit, women who cannot easily afford or who do not have easy access to gynecologists can perform an at home urine test which measures the pH level of their urine. If the pH measured is too high or too low, the Vaginosis App will advise the individual to seek medical attention and provide physician recommendations.
This app enhances the women’s health progress that has already been made in Uganda in recent years. In 2006, Dr. Ian Jacobs, Dean and Head of the School of Medicine at the University of Manchester, established the Uganda Women’s Health Initiative (UWHI), a collaborative project between Britain and Uganda with the goal of improving screening and treatment for women in Uganda. Poor detection of infection, such as bacterial vaginosis, may result in pelvic inflammatory disease, miscarriages, and cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths amongst women in Uganda. Prior to UWHI, approximately 2,464 of the 3,577 women diagnosed with cervical cancer annually in Uganda died from the disease. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Jacobs, improved screening techniques have enabled earlier detection and treatment of cancer. In addition, postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), defined as loss of more than 500 ml of blood within the first 24 hours following childbirth, is a common and often fatal condition in Uganda. PPH is often treated with oxytocic medications, and UWHI has increased the availability of misoprostol, a similar drug that can be self-administered. Finally, UWHI has helped reduce brain damage in newborns through innovative brain cooling techniques, and it has empowered more women to seek medical attention in general.
While progress has clearly been made, nevertheless we still have a ways to go. For starters, the entire premise of the BVkit app involves owning a smartphone, and at present only approximately 5% of women in Uganda own smartphones. The apps designers hope and expect that these numbers will increase in the near future. In the meantime, they are trying to share their app with women in other countries such as Nigeria and South Africa, where approximately 30% of women own smartphones. Who knows what creative concepts are in technological store for women in the future? I encourage you to share your ideas and suggestions…and if you end up winning a Nobel Prize someday, feel free to give me a shout out.