Mother Health International has developed The Heart String, a color coded bracelet which allows health attendants, who cannot read or write, to monitor fetal heart tones in pregnant women. Birth attendants listen to the fetal heart beat and press a bead each time they hear a ‘beat’- after fifteen seconds, the attendant looks at where she has landed on the bracelet. If she is in the white section, the FHT is too low. The Green, the FHT is in a range of normal. The Red, the FHT is too high. Knowing if a fetus is in distress allows birth attendants to make informed decisions about labor management and appropriate transport.
Internationally accepted best practice ssuch as monitoring fetal heart rates throughout pregnancy and delivery can make the difference between an infant who lives and an infant who dies, a mother who makes it to the hospital in time and a mother who does not.
Over the last two years we have used Heart Strings with over 75 illiterate traditional midwives and have been overwhelmed by the success. Midwives who previously could not tell the difference between a high risk mother and a low risk mother were suddenly able to make appropriate medical decisions prior to a bad outcome, thereby avoiding catastrophe and saving lives.
The Heart Strings cost about $1 to manufacture and are based on traditional Ugandan methods of counting the days of the moon on a string to determine fertility. Because of this, they are easily understood and accepted by traditional midwives. Additionally, they can be worn on the arm at all times, so traveling attendants will always have the tool with them. The Heart String is a sustainable and life saving tool that is culturally appropriate to the regions that it serves.
Why innovations for Traditional Midwives?
Traditional Midwives are women who practice midwifery as it has been handed down to them from generation to generation. Replaced over several years with a biomedical approach to childbirth, traditional midwifery has almost been eradicated in many places around the world. We are committed to preserving traditional midwifery knowledge and valuing its importance as culturally specific approaches to women’s health care.
Most NGOs and models of formal education function along a continuum of colonization and charity, which assume a ‘west is best’ mentality. Despite government pushes towards hospital births, it is estimated that 80% of births in rural areas take place with traditional birth attendants, which makes them critical health care providers and crucial to community restoration efforts.
In response to this, Mother Health International works closely with traditional midwives to create a model of midwifery that combines renewable practices from the West and practical traditional methods as well. We believe that holistic and restorative reproductive care is essential to reducing perinatal mortality.