How the Gates Foundation Helps Expectant Moms Survive the Survivable

Dr. Peter von Dadelszen of the University of British Columbia believes that pre-eclampsia, a blood pressure condition that effects pregnant women "should be as survivable in Nigeria as it is in Canada." The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agrees with Dr. von Dadelszen, and has granted him $17 million to make that survival rate happen.

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Health

Pre-eclampsia is easily treatable, but if the soon-to-be moms either don't know they have it or can't get to a hospital to treat it, it's often fatal. So fatal, in fact, that it’s the second-leading cause of death in pregnant women living in developing countries. With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's latest grant, Dr. von Dadelszen is leading the charge in 11 developing countries — including Nigeria, Pakistan and India — to decrease maternal deaths due to pre-eclampsia, hopefully in dramatic numbers.

Though pre-eclampsia simply sounds like a high-blood pressure issue, nearly 76,000 women die from it every year, nearly all of them in developing countries. If the women survive, they can suffer permanent brain damage or blindness. If the baby survives, they risk suffering from cerebral palsy or stunted growth. Imagine treating a child with cerebral palsy in regions of the world have trouble receiving treatment for a condition as survivable as pre-eclampsia. 

Dr. von Dadelszen's work will revolve around an easier method to testing and diagnosing pre-eclampsia using smartphone technology. I'm not a techie. I can't pretend to know what that means. My smartphone use is limited to Facebook, email, and the occasional game of Words with Friends. Dr. von Dadelszen's technology, developed by Mark Ansermino and Guy Dumont, involves calculating a pre-eclampsia risk score for pregnant women based on their symptoms. If a women's risk score is high, the community health employees treat her or arrange for transportation to the nearest hospital if necessary.

Incidentally, this latest $17 million check isn't the first one Gates has written to Dr. von Dadelszen and his efforts. The good doctor had already received a $7.4 million grant from the foundation to get things moving along.

Related: Trevor Mundel