Nigerian lecturing in UK bags Google funding for research to save lives of mothers and new-borns

By Opeyemi Babalola 

A Nigerian, Dr. Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas, who is lecturing and based in the UK has been awarded an undisclosed amount of funds to further conduct more research on how Google Maps could be used to help pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Banke-Thomas, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Greenwich, had in October last year, explored how Google Maps could be used for generating closer-to-reality travel time estimates for pregnant women in emergency situations.

While reacting to the news, the beneficiary explained that “This could help governments to identify and make plans to address hotspots of emergency critical maternal health in sub–Saharan Africa.”

“The proposed digital platform will inform actions to improve geographical accessibility to such critical health services, underpinned by context-specific evidence, leading to saving the lives of women and newborns.”

“The opportunity that Google has provided to scale up this very important work has really humbled me. As researchers, we are constantly thinking ‘how do we solve the big problems’. However, big problems need big fixers and having the backing of Google to do this along with the phenomenal team that I work with, I am confident that together we can achieve big things,” he added. 

According to him, “This project will use Google Directions API data and geo-coded databases on functionality of public and private hospitals in urban areas of low and middle-income countries to develop a digital platform for estimating travel time and distance to nearest and second nearest private or public hospitals with capacity to provide emergency obstetric care at different times of the day.

“The resulting analysis and digital platform, which the team will build together with Google, will provide the first comprehensive understanding of how long it takes women to reach their nearest hospital with the necessary facilities at any time of the day.

“It will be delivered in three phases. Phase 1, pilot phase, will focus on urban areas in Nigeria. Phase II will then move across sub-Saharan Africa and Phase III will shift to Southeast Asia and Latin America.”

He narrated that, “In the study carried out in 2019, we identified the four major hotspots from where many pregnant women need more than one hour to travel to reach public hospitals in Lagos State, using data from hospital records and google Maps. These hotspots were Alimosho/Ifako-Ijaiye (Cluster A), Eti-Osa (Cluster B) and Ijanikin/Morogbo (Cluster C) and north of Ikorodu (Cluster D).

“We briefed the Lagos State Government on the findings of this study and it informed their choice on citing a new public hospital being built by the Lagos State Government, while confirming that the location of the Eti-Osa Maternal and Child Care Centre was spot on. 

“This study was published in the prestigious Health Policy and Planning journal. It was this study that Google saw which made them reach out to me asking if I was able to scale up the work across low- and middle-income countries. The project will be managed by a consortium of researchers that I have brought together called OnTIME Consortium. TIME meaning ‘Tackling In-transit delays for Mothers in Emergency.”

Dr. Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas

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