Nigeria has the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the world with 917 deaths per 100,000 live births, preceded only by Sierra Leone, Chad, and South Sudan. About 262,000 newborns die at birth each year, which is the second-highest national total in the world. Nigeria represents less than 3% of the world’s population but contributes to 10% of global deaths for pregnant mothers. These figures are also likely underestimated, as less than 50% of children under five years of age in Nigeria were registered at birth.
According to research, the leading causes of maternal death in Nigeria are excessive bleeding, eclampsia, sepsis, and complications from unsafe abortions. HelpMum, a Nigerian health tech startup, has been providing solutions to these problems, bar unsafe abortions. (Abortion in Nigeria is illegal and carries a heavy jail sentence unless it is performed to save the life of the pregnant woman.)
The startup recently received a $250,000 grant from the Patrick McGovern Foundation to support the deployment of its AI-Driven Vaccine Intervention Optimiser (ADVISER). ADVISER’s framework was built on an integer linear program that aims to increase the overall likelihood of successful vaccinations.
The framework was initially developed through HelpMum’s partnership with Vanderbilt University, a private research university, as part of the Google AI for Social Good program. The framework also received top honours in the social good category for its contribution to optimizing childhood health and wellness in Nigeria at the 2022 International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI).
Founded in 2017 by Abiodun Adereni, a student at the University of Ibadan at the time, the health startup uses technology and low-cost birth kits to tackle maternal and infant mortality. On a call with TechCabal, Adereni said that while taking a course, he realised that pregnant women in rural areas who keep animals around them expose their unborn children to toxoplasmosis.
He said that this realisation made him start HelpMum, and after providing basic healthcare services to these women, he noticed that most infant deaths could be preventable. He then started partnering with organisations that shared the same passion for these issues. The startup has received a total of $500,000 from several grants, such as $250,000 from Google, $5,000 from the United Nations, $50,000 from Global Citizen and $55,000 from Facebook.
According to Adereni, most of these grants have been used to develop technology-based solutions to maternal and infant mortality. Alongside providing clean birth kits, HelpMum has developed an ecosystem of applications such as a vaccination tracking system, an e-commerce platform, a pregnancy tracker and several other features. To enable women in rural areas to access these apps, HelpMum has partnered with the Oyo State Government to avail all primary health centres in the state for this purpose.
Adereni added on the call that, with the vaccination tracking system, HelpMum has been able to register 60,000 mothers and has achieved a 45% increase in vaccination output since its launch in 2019. He said that over 2,000 healthcare professionals have used the e-learning platform, and this is because of a partnership with Facebook to supply free mobile tablets to community health workers. HelpMum’s free birth kits have also surpassed the 10,000 mark in over 100 communities with a 90% success rate.
The Patrick McGovern Foundation brings together global experts from academia, industry, and civil society to explore how AI and data science may be used to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the planet. The foundation has awarded over $300 million in grants since its inception in 2014.