Google today has announced a new tool to help in assessing geographic access to emergency obstetric (EmOC) care. This is a broader effort to help decision makers, governments and public health organisations in Nigeria address the gaps in accessing health services where facilities are limited.
The tool uses Google’s internal directions Application Programming Interface (API) to estimate the travel time to the nearest, second nearest and third nearest EmOC facilities across specific regions in the country. It also builds on a dataset Google released in 2021 that revealed the average travel times to COVID-19 vaccination facilities. Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard School for Public Health in Massachusetts used that dataset to help identify “vaccine desserts” and inform vaccination efforts. Google also collaborated with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to quantify geographic access to parks across nearly 500 metropolitan areas in six countries: Estonia, France, Greece, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States.
According to the WHO, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day; more than 70% of these deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria also contributes the most to global maternal health deaths, based on recent WHO estimates. With the OnTIME Consortium’s contribution of verified emergency obstetric care facilities, the tool by Google shows decision makers how quickly expectant mothers can access emergency obstetric care in Nigeria’s 15 largest cities: Aba, Abuja, Benin City, Ibadan, Ilorin, Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Maiduguri, Onitsha, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Uyo, and Warri.
Using the information that will be gathered on the tool, decision makers can expand ambulatory services, make road improvements, add new facilities or upgrade existing ones, and more. “We are excited to collaborate with the OnTIME Consortium, a partnership of policymakers, doctors, and researchers focused on improving care for expecting mothers, to make this tool available to decision makers in Nigeria”, said Olumide Balogun, Google Nigeria, Interim Lead.
Evidence shows that long travel times from home to a health facility significantly impact pregnancy outcomes for mothers and newborns, and timely access to emergency obstetric care (EmOC) can reduce maternal deaths and intrapartum stillbirths by as much as 50% and 75%, respectively. But current approaches to estimating the time it takes expectant mothers to reach EmOC are limited.
“This digital dashboard will be a critical tool in the arsenal of service planners and policymakers looking at optimizing geographical accessibility to critical maternal health services as well as those keen to understand contributions of travel time to poor maternal and perinatal outcomes,” said OnTIME Principal Investigator Dr. Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas, a physician, public health practitioner, and Associate Professor of Maternal and Newborn Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“We hope that governments and public health organizations will use this tool to better support the health of their communities, by helping mothers and infants access care more quickly. We’re looking forward to learning from our rollout in Nigeria, and expanding to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in the coming months”, Balogun says.