Animation may save lives in Africa

Maternity Worldwide

A new smartphone app with animated instructions may potentially prevent thousands of deaths in childbirth.

Every year, up to 350,000 mothers die giving birth in the third world. And up to 20 times more are disabled following complications such as haemorrhage, infections, obstructed labour and unsafe abortions. Despite the fact that these complications may often be remedied with simple measures, healthcare personnel in remote clinics often lack the necessary knowledge and training.

- The challenge is to find a tool for the healthcare personnel that will quickly and efficiently help them diagnose and handle emergency obstetric complications, says Anne Marie Barrie, project manager in the Danish NGO Maternity Worldwide.

- So far, it has been attempted to hang written instructions with images on the walls of the maternity wards, but given the poor reading skills even among trained healthcare professionals, they have not been of much assistance.

The answer, according to Maternity Worldwide, may be a smartphone app with animated instruction videos. Through the Animation Hub, they have assigned the task to Viborg-based animation company Mark Film. Together, they have produced a demo version of the app providing instructions for handling postpartum haemorrhage (PPH). Initially, the target audience is the healthcare system of western Ethiopia.

Uterus massage
- There are many advantages of using animation to show these methods, says Anders Nejsum, managing director at Mark Film, showing an animated sequence from the app.

On the screen, a nurse attempts to massage the uterus from the outside. When that does not stop the bleeding, she inserts her hand in the patient's vagina, clenches it into a fist and compresses the uterus from within and above.

- For one thing, animated drawings are a universal language. When you see the nurse clench her fist, everybody knows what that means. And we can show a cross-section of the patient so that you can see what's happening on the stomach as well as inside the vagina. The alternative would be a live film recording demonstrating the method on a doll, and that would be more abstract and harder to relate to, thinks Nejsum.

Test winner
The managing director of Mark Film can back his claims. When the animated instructions and a live film were shown to 18 Ethiopian stakeholders, 16 of these thought that the animated film did the best job. Two abstained from voting. In the words of Anne Marie Barrie: "A tremendous success".

Being able to measure and judge the results is a crucial part of the project, explains Anders Nejsum:

- What we've done so far is actually just a demo version of the app. It has been tested by the healthcare personnel at the hospital in Gimbie, Ethiopia. Maternity Worldwide has started raising funds for the final project based on the test results. In addition to PPH, the final version will also deal with resuscitating neonates and treating post-abortion infections.

Initially, the final version will be used at the Ethiopian hospitals and healthcare clinics that Maternity Worldwide cooperates with, and for whom the demo version was produced. The long term perspectives, however, are far-reaching.

- The deployment in Gimbie will be observed by a Ph.D. student, and if it turns out to be a success, the visual emergency tool may be deployed in all of Ethiopia and other African countries, finishes the managing director of Mark Film.

At Maternity Worldwide, they are very satisfied with the joint project so far:

- Our cooperation with Mark Film has been fantastic, informational and inspiring. Right from our first meeting at the Animation Hub where we were spellbound by Morten Thorning's visions, energy and belief that anything is possible, to our cooperation with Anders who went whole-heartedly into the project and displayed an enormous flexibility and creativity, it's all been tremendously inspiring. And we've gained a lot of insight into what animation can do besides providing entertainment, says Anne Marie Barrie.

In addition to match-making, the Animation Hub contributed funds for the development of the Maternity Worldwide app. You may view a demo clip here

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