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How One Photo Can Save A Mother’s Life — And Her Child’s

In remote places where it’s hard to encourage prenatal care, the promise of an ultrasound can make a world of difference.

Smiling for the care. Photo via Article 25/Flickr.

From Topanga to Tanzania, holistic medicine can be popular, but it has its limits.

That’s why doctors working on global health are excited about a simple new way to encourage pregnant women in rural Africa to seek prenatal care.

While it might be convenient and commonplace to skip visits and rely on local healers, there’s only one way to see your baby before it’s born: an ultrasound scan. Once a luxury in remote areas, technology has made it possible to bring before-birth photos almost straight to women’s doors. And it’s inspiring them to sign up for care that could save their own life and their baby’s life.

The results are impressive: One report on southwest Uganda showed temporary village clinics drew six times the crowd when ultrasounds were advertised in the area. Women who had stuck with traditional healers became nine times more likely to visit.

It’s not just the force of habit working against regular prenatal treatment. For some women, reaching regular clinics is a logistical impossibility, whether because of terrain and transportation, disrupted family networks, or both.

With over 6,000 fatalities yearly among pregnant Ugandan women and some 36,000 others who suffer from debilitating chronic conditions because of complications, ultrasound programs hold the potential for a change in reproductive health.

The ultrasound machines aren’t cheap — $10,000 new and $2,500 pre-owned — but they can crank out 40 peeks inside the womb for every charged battery pack, and they feature durable construction that keeps them in good working order while tooling around rough roads.

Plus, when it comes to meeting even higher expectations in the field, there’s (almost) an app for that. The team plans to test cheaper new scanners that plug — yep, you guessed it — right into your smartphone, offering a quick fetal display and an opportunity to zap the pic to health professionals worldwide.

Here’s looking at you, kids.

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