Maternal Health Initiative

Our Maternal Health Initiatives are a collection of research and interventions aiming to address several aspects of maternal health that impact morbidity, mortality and quality of life.

In 2015, we began a partnership with Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) in Ghana, first aimed at investigating the effectiveness of GIRHL’s innovative but simple device (the Prenabelt) for reducing the rates of stillbirth and low-birthweight. After a period of productive collaboration, we broadened our partnership to create a comprehensive maternal health research and development program aimed at improving patient care throughout health care systems in West Africa.

KBTH is the third largest hospital in continental Africa. Over 11,000 babies are born at KBTH yearly (about 31 babies per day). Our Ghanaian team is world class and consists of 2 OBGYNs, 3 midwives, and 1 biostatistician.


Our Innovations

A new approach for the prevention of stillbirth and low-birthweight: the Prenabelt
Study Site: Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana; IWK Health Centre, Halifax, Canada; University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

There has been little documentation of the effect of lying on one’s back during sleep in pregnancy. However, several studies have suggested that routinely sleeping on the back in late pregnancy may be a risk factor for stillbirth and low birth weight. This is significant given that the majority of pregnant women spend up to 25% of their sleep time on their back in late pregnancy. In 2014, our team won a $100,000 CAD award from Grand Challenges Canada and a $25,000 AUD award from the University of South Australia to investigate a novel approach to mitigate this risk of stillbirth and low birth weight. We have developed a device, called PrenaBelt, to reduce the amount of time a pregnant woman spends on her back while sleeping. Currently, we are conducting three trials – one in each Australia, Ghana, and Canada – to investigate the effect of the PrenaBelt on the mother’s sleep and her baby’s birth weight.

Implementation of maternal-fetal monitoring systems designed for low-resourced settings
Study Site: Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana

Clinicians in developed countries have access to a wide range of tools to survey the condition of a baby in the womb as well as obtain real-time vital signs of the mother. These maternal-fetal monitoring systems are often deployed during labor to monitor both the baby’s and mother’s well-being. However, these monitoring systems, which were designed for use in more industrialized countries, do not address the specific needs of developing countries that do not have the resources to maintain these systems. Through collaboration with key medical device manufacturers and distributors we are developing effective designs and testing algorithms for implementing a novel wireless, low-cost maternal-fetal monitoring system. By working with partners in industry, we plan to develop a sustainable solution which promises to reduce the burden of maternal/neonatal mortality and morbidity in low-resource settings.

Link between semen exposure and pre-eclampsia in African populations
Study Site: Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana

Preeclampsia is one of the predominant contributors of maternal death worldwide, with a higher incidence in developing countries. Because the etiology of preeclampsia is unknown, there is currently no cure available for mothers diagnosed with this condition, other than emergent delivery of the baby. Previous studies in developed countries have shown an association between decreased paternal semen exposure and increased risk of pre-eclampsia. However, such associations have not previously been assessed in African populations. We aim to study the link between paternal semen exposure and pre-eclampsia in Ghana, and use our results to inform preventative research and develop strategies for addressing this devastating complication of pregnancy.