UJ Health Sciences students boost antenatal care

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended at least four antenatal care (ANC) visits and skilled attendants at birth. However, most pregnant women in rural communities in low-income countries do not achieve the minimum recommended visits and deliver without skilled attendants. With the aim of increasing number of ANC visits, reducing home deliveries, and supplementing care given by ANC clinics, a proposed system based on low-cost mobile phones and portable ultrasound scan machines was piloted.

The Department of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences (MIRS) within the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), rolled out a health awareness campaign in the community of Riverlea, Johannesburg, to drive home the importance of enhancing maternal, foetal and infant health and outcomes. The aim is to produce a long-term impact in underprivileged communities.

“Ultrasound has brought about irrevocable change in the management of the pregnant patient and provides clinicians with information about the foetus and its environment which is unobtainable through any other clinical means. Unfortunately, in low resourced countries such as SA, this technology is not routinely available to pregnant ladies”, says Barbara van Dyk, Senior Lecturer: Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences, UJ.

Weekly antenatal ultrasound scans are offered, free of charge, to pregnant ladies who attend the Riverlea clinic. The clinic is manned by UJ ultrasound students, who work under the supervision of a senior lecturer.

“The fact that UJ offers this service to a local underprivileged community, sets it aside as a university which takes its social responsibility seriously. Furthermore, the initiative offers a great opportunity to UJ students to sharpen their scanning skills in preparation for the workplace,” added Ms van Dyk.

The service commenced in 2013 and the number of patients scanned increased every year. A total of 974 patients have been scanned up to the end of 2016. The service is ongoing.

“As a reliable test for pregnancy dating, antenatal screening also provides vital information on early detection of foetal abnormalities and monitoring of foetal growth and wellbeing, and has become an acceptable norm for antenatal care in developed countries,” concluded Ms van Dyk.

The antenatal screenings are part of a community outreach project to provide the community with a viable, holistic and sustainable service in order to address the specific health needs that were identified.

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