A Kenyan researcher is hosted at VHIR through a fellowship grant from the Women for Africa Foundation

Dr. Elizabeth Echoka proposes a digital platform to monitor obstetric risks in pregnant women in underserved populations.


Dr. Elizabeth Echoka, a maternal health researcher from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, is in Barcelona, for a six-month research fellowship at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), hosted by the Maternal and Fetal Medicine group. The fellowship is courtesy of the Science By Women grant from the Women for Africa Foundation.

During the fellowship period, Dr. Echoka will collaborate with the VHIR team in developing a protocol for identifying high risk pregnancies and linkage to care at the primary health care for women living in low-income countries. In addition to research proposal, Dr. Echoka will participate in various VHIR activities that will enable her to learn better maternal health practices.

The Women for Africa Foundation works towards the development of the continent through its women. Specifically, this program promotes African women’s access to science and technology by supporting their research and giving them visibility within the international scientific community. Dr. Echoka is also participating in other capacity building activities organised by the foundation to networks with other scientists and sharing ideas. This includes participation in the 1st Science by Women Congress to be held 24-25 June 2024 at UNED VITORIA-GASTEIZ. She will be presenting on a proposal titled “Examining obstetric mistreatment of adolescents and young women through an intersectionality lens in the healthcare system in Kenya” being developed in collaboration with the VHIR team.

A protocol to identify high risk pregnancies and link to care is addressing the prevention of obstetric complications in Kenya

Kenya continues to experience high maternal mortality rates, with many deaths resulting from preventable causes such as haemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, infections, and obstructed labour. Addressing these preventable causes is critical to improving maternal health outcomes and achieving global health targets.

Initially, Dr Echokas idea was to develop, implement, and evaluate a digital platform for the early detection of the obstetric risk signs described above. However, after consultation with VHIR team, and despite being a great idea, the sustainability of the platform cannot be guaranteed because the women would require a mobile phone to send the alert and the platform requires resources to launch and maintain it.

Now, the new idea is to develop a protocol to identify high-risk pregnancies and linkage to care at the primary health care level in Kenya, as is done at Vall d’Hebron. By enhancing primary healthcare capacity and ensuring timely linkage to care, the study has the potential to significantly reduce preventable maternal deaths in Kenya.

VHIR, a reference for Science by Women researchers

Dr Echokas research idea will be developed in collaboration with VHIR, specifically with the Maternal and Fetal Medicine research group. This multidisciplinary group integrates different areas of expertise. On the one hand, it identifies new diagnostic and therapeutic tools for maternal and fetal pathology, and on the other, it translates these tools into clinical practice.

“VHIR is the center that most aligns with my research interests in Kenya. Moreover, thanks to the mentorship and support I am receiving as a scientist, I will be able to implement new ideas and innovations into my proposal, based on the example here,” says Dr. Echoka.

This is not the first time VHIR has hosted an African researcher within the Science by Women program. The most recent case was last year when Dr. Enam Motto conducted her research on renal complications associated with diabetes within the VHIR’s Nephrology and Renal Transplantation group.

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