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Rutgers Students Build App for Maternal Health Awareness

A team of 40 female students led by sophomore Zoe Reich spent four months creating Mother’s Touch, an interactive app that aims to reduce maternal and infant mortality by providing users with information and resources.

Rutgers University
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(TNS) — Zoe Reich was writing an essay for the Women’s Health Institute at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School as part of her internship, when she came across the data on maternal mortality in both New Jersey and the country.

The Rutgers University rising sophomore was shocked by what she found out.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among other high-income, developed countries, according to a 2020 report from The Commonwealth Fund. The country would rank 55th, if the figure is compared to other countries in the World Health Organization’s maternal mortality ranking, according to Vox.

“I thought that we would have been definitely one of the leading countries in having the lowest numbers of maternal mortality,” Reich told NJ Advance Media, “but being one of the developed countries with the highest (rate) I was in shock, because being someone who intends to give birth at some point in my life, those odds really aren’t the most comforting.”

New Jersey’s maternal mortality numbers are similarly alarming.

The state ranks 47th for an overall maternal death rate, or 47 women out of every 100,000 live births, according to Nurture NJ, an initiative led by First Lady Tammy Murphy. It’s much higher than the national average of 20 women dying during or soon after childbirth.

Staggering racial disparities exist as well — Black mothers in the state are seven times more likely than white mothers to die from pregnancy-related complications. Black newborns are three times more likely to die than white babies before they reach their first birthday.

“I had no idea and it was very disturbing to see how there is inequity between women of different races,” Reich, who attends the Rutgers New Brunswick campus, said of the state’s data.

Reich felt there was a unique opportunity to use technology to help reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, so the 19-year-old created a team to build an interactive, educational maternal health app, called Mother’s Touch.

Dr. Gloria Bachmann, an OB/GYN at the Rutgers Women’s Health Institute, oversaw the project and mentored Reich, who is one of her interns. The app took roughly four months to create and involved a team of 40 female students.

When a user opens up the app, they can create an account and log in to save information they find, Reich said. Different boxes, similar to flash cards, display relevant information on topics, from the coronavirus’ impact on pregnancy to health and nutrition and mental health.

Resources are also available within the app, including information on different health centers and hospitals. Everything is presented through easily digestible paragraphs in a calming, neutral color palette and nature-themed design.

Future features include a blood pressure dashboard — by connecting people’s monitors with their phones to record their blood pressure and alerting users if they need to go to the hospital — and a map of maternal health services, as a visualization of the resources section.

A beta version of Mother’s Touch was released on June 17, but an updated, official version will be introduced to RWJMS patients later this summer.

Bachmann lauded the project’s dozens of students for collaborating on the app. Students work on different teams within the project, from research and political science to business and advertising.

“It’s a team, it’s all of us together, moving ahead,” she said, “and you don’t have to be the actual person who catches the baby to make a difference.”

Before launching Mother’s Touch, Reich and Bachmann met with Murphy, whose maternal health initiative helped inspire the app, and her team, discussing ways to reach communities in the state. They’ve also partnered with related organizations in the state, like Melinated Moms, to figure out what information is most needed within the app.

As a practicing physician, Bachmann said women often don’t know what to ask, but she hopes the app helps educate women on signs and symptoms of possible health conditions.

Exposure to important information through the app will hopefully enable women “to come into the office and say, ‘I have a headache and it’s not just because I’m pregnant or because I’m stressed, but this may be because I’m developing something more serious,’” like pre-eclampsia, and they ask to be checked out, Bachmann said.

Reich is familiar with the medical world. Her father is an emergency room pediatrician and her mom, who is from Trinidad, is a registered nurse. She said as a woman of color with parents involved in medicine, she has access to resources other women may not have.

“I can go to (my parents) if I feel uncomfortable about my situation, but there’s other women who are Hispanic or Black, who have similar ancestry as me, that will have challenges and won’t have the same resources that I do,” she said, as part of reasoning behind the app.

Reich, who is majoring in microbiology and English, and minoring in Spanish, said she originally thought of becoming a doctor, but is now leaning toward academia to focus on education, advocacy, and research. She hopes to earn a PhD in either microbiology or public health.

She also hopes this app empowers women and future and current mothers on navigating pregnancy and related aspects of maternal health.

Learning more about health and pregnancy will hopefully provide a general foundation, so when women “get into situations where they feel uncertain, they can be like ‘I know this and I’m trying to learn this,’” Reich said. “I haven’t learned it yet, but I can.”

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