Kenya-based health-tech company Ilara Health has received a $1.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The startup, which provides point-of-care diagnostic testing to small primary care clinics in the eastern African nation, will use the funds to develop effective antenatal care (ANC) interventions and tech-based solutions for pregnant women unable to access essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.
Working with the Kisumu Ministry of Health and the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Ilara will leverage a network of local primary care facilities, telemedicine, and home-based health worker consultations to ensure safe continuity of life-saving maternal care during the pandemic and beyond, the company said in a press release issued this week.
The grant, which was awarded in September and is expected to reach approximately 4,000 low-income pregnant women in peri-urban Kisumu county, will address a significant drop in ANC attendance at large health facilities as concerns for possible COVID-19 transmission grow in these hotspots.
Currently, less than three percent of women in Kenya complete the World Health Organization recommended eight ante-natal care appointments, which reduces the likelihood of maternal deaths and stillbirths. Maternal mortality in Kenya is already high with 342 maternal deaths per 100,000 recorded in 2017; however, Kisumu County has one of the highest rates of maternal death at 595 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019.
Ilara and its partners will work to ensure essential ANC (i.e. the battery of tests comprising ANC profile, obstetric ultrasounds, and micro/macronutrient supplementation) is available at small local clinics, it said. The project aims to improve access to diagnostics locally and, through the company’s technology platform and diagnostic tools, the team will reach pregnant women at their local clinics, individual homes, or remotely – collectively providing safe, COVID-free, high-quality care to both mother and baby.
Additionally, through its partnership with Butterfly Network, the company behind the telemedicine-enabled Butterfly iQ, a separate set of small facilities without in-house sonographers will be linked to imaging specialists so scans that are carried out locally can be read and diagnosed remotely in real-time, so patients receive immediate feedback. If successful, this feature will be rolled out across the larger project to improve the availability of ultrasounds across peri-urban areas, Ilara said. The project also aims to drive community awareness on the importance of ANC services and attendance in improving maternal and neonatal health outcomes for longer-term improvement in care.
“We are incredibly excited to receive support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve Kenya’s maternal health outcomes and promote Ilara Health’s core mission of improving access to diagnostics countrywide. This grant underscores the acute need for the continuation of essential ANC services during the COVID-19 pandemic; we hope to see a great reduction in poor maternal and neonatal health outcomes through its implementation in these low-resource peri-urban areas,” said Emilian Popa, CEO & Co-founder of Ilara Health.
Since 2019, Ilara Health has partnered with more than 120 clinics, enabling access to life-saving point of care diagnostic tools to thousands of patients across Kenya. Its innovative underlying technology seamlessly integrates these diagnostic tools into easy to manage tablets and mobile phones that require minimal training to operate.