During the lockdown, there was an increase in the number of maternal mortality deaths due to the restrictions on movement as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19.
There were continuous reports by the media and on digital platforms of expectant mothers dying due to complications. But it is believed that early detection of these complications could save the lives of both the mother and child.
A story published by Daily Monitor on Tuesday, March 02, 2021 titled: “Maternal, child deaths worry Kabale leaders’ indicated that in 2020, Kabale had registered 13 cases of maternal deaths and 71 cases of prenatal (around birth) deaths while in 2019, they had 10 cases of maternal mortality and 66 cases of prenatal deaths.
In 2018, cases of maternal deaths declined to five from nine in 2017 while prenatal deaths dropped to 41, down from 51 in 2017.
Several similar fates befall various expectant mothers for reasons such as uterus ruptured following more than 12 hours of labour without help from health workers.
It is for such reasons that Mobile Scan Solutions Uganda Limited (M-SCAN) was invented to address the challenges of maternal mortality rate.
M-scan’s main product is a USB-end portable ultrasound machine that gives ultrasound on your laptop, tablet and mobile phones.
Mr Innocent Menyo, the chief executive officer and co- founder M-scan Uganda says M-scan is a developer of low-cost mobile ultrasound device that seeks to address and reduce maternal mortality by early detection of risk factors and easy accessibility to affordable ultrasound services for use in low and middle-income families.
“The M-scan device is aimed at ensuring that pregnant women in resource-limited settings have access to affordable ultrasound services that can help in early detection of risk factors of maternal mortality and hence reduce the maternal mortality rate,” Mr Menyo, a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Medical Radiography from Makerere University, says.
Radiography involves doing ultra sound scan, Xrays, computerised tomography (CT) scan and Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
A computerised tomography (CT) scan combines a series of x-ray images taken from different angles around your body and uses computer processing to create cross-sectional images (slices) of the bones, blood vessels and soft tissues inside your body. CT scan images provide more-detailed information than plain x-rays do.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans produce detailed images of the organs and tissues in the body.
The portable ultrasound device is portable, uses less power and is affordable for mothers in the low resource setting.
He notes that the device makes it easier to detect risk factors that result into mortality rates. It can refer these mothers on time and have both the lives of the mother and the child saved on time.
The journey of M-scan started in 2017 with three students at Makerere Medical school who had watched several pregnant women die due to scanable risk factors of maternal mortality in the rural areas where they had been posted for community based learning.
“It is a story that started when we were still medical students at Makerere University. We were posted upcountry for our medical placement (internship) and while there, we saw the demand and need for ultra sound services,” Menyo recounts.
He, however, notes that most of the facilities did not have ultrasound scan machines because they are costly and use a lot of power and they are very classy to use.
“We realised that in Uganda, over 16 women die every day due to risk factors of maternal mortality and of these 16; seven die of complications that can be detected and managed early on an ultrasound device,” he elucidates.
The group then launched the idea of a home based ultra sound service model where they would do home to home ultrasound scans in expectant mothers especially for those in low resource settings.
Menyo explains that they acquired seed funding and support from United Nations Population Fund (UNFP), where they won $10,000 (Shs35.6m) seed funding under the Up Accelerate programme which helped them do the prototypes and improve them with time including the versions and resolutions to see that these bits are up to speed with international standards.
In addition, through the YHER Accelerator programme in South Africa, they won AUD50,000 (Shs138m).
“We have commercialised. The M-scan device is on the market but the M-scan services are also available for the home based ultrasound services where they do home to home services,” he notes, adding that the devices are 10 times cheaper than ultrasound machines and can be used in the day to day clinics and health facilities to achieve ultra-scan for everyday pregnant mothers.
Mscan amid lockdown
He notes that when Covid-19 pandemic hit the country resulting into lockdown, restrictions in movement and subsequently curfew; expectant women could not access health facilities for certain reasons. One fear of contracting Covid-19, the curfew imposed among others.
“With the home to home ultra-scan model, a mother books off the platform or can make a call to the M-scan group then a team of radiographers to go and scan them, detect complications and refer them to the health facilities they work with,” he comments.
Global recognition and Achievements
M-scan recently participated in the Niger project and merged winner globally.
“We merged winners of the Niger award global competition where different start-ups from Africa took part and M-scan from Uganda emerged the winner,” he says noting this shows that what Uganda’s start ups are doing has great impact, can be scaled across Africa and can come to the rescue of pregnant mothers and have complications detected on time.
In addition, M-scan emerged as one of the three winners of the Ninja Business Plan competition three Ugandan start-ups received $30,000 (Shs106.9m) each for their innovative business models and technologies in response to changes in social and economic activity following the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in partnership with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and The Innovation Village.
As young African scientists and entrepreneurs especially for startUps, M-scan faces challenges such as acceptability of the solutions built.
He notes: “Not so many people believe in the new approach, in a cultural change and a shift in the way of doing things. When you come up with M-scan; something that is portable, can work on a laptop and mobile phone, so many people can doubt it.”
This has prompted them to do a lot of sensitisation for people to see the devices and make comparisons of between devices and conventional ultrasound machines.
Secondly, there is limited sustainable funding and financing for startups.
Thirdly, startups need a lot of technical support and advice and connections in terms of partnerships especially those that work through Business to Business (B2B) models, and need hubs where they can develop their ideas.
He calls upon different implementing partners like government, and local funders can support the different arenas.
Faith in startups
Mr Menyo says the ecosystem has grown over time. He calls upon innovators to believe in their ideas, form competitive teams and give life to their ideas.
“Innovators need to be bold in their ideas and persistently work on them (ideas). A number of innovators think it is a short cut to easy life but the reality is innovation is a highway to hard work,” he says adding that the systems are complex because they are finding solutions to existing challenges.
It costs about Shs7.4m to acquire an M-scan device which is 10 times cheaper than the bigger machines.
In addition, they have come up with different models like the cost sharing model and the higher purchase models. These models help upcoming clinics to own the machines like ultrasound devices as they pay in installments to us.
Menyo says they look forward to extending and enhancing quality of human life by innovating with integrity for and with communities.
“The future of radiology is point of care. It is moving away from the rigid machines that are very bulky and stationed. The industry is now making very portable machines like the M-scan,” he adds, noting there are portable MRI machines that are coming on the market.
He further adds that with Covid-19, you do not need to move a patient from one department to the radiology department to do an ultra sound scan. The scan can still be done on their bed side.