Learn how rural nurses in Zambia are using WhatsApp to save the lives of their patients
Allison Annette Foster was enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with her family in Dallas when her phone chimed. Her cheer faded as a clinical emergency began to unfold in a string of text messages among a group of nurses eight time zones away.
It was the middle of the night in rural Zambia, and a 39-year-old pregnant woman had arrived at a local health post. A young nurse there was alone, as is often the case, and unsure of what to do. So he grabbed his phone and sent a message to nurses in other districts for advice.
“Mother here in labor. She is really struggling and in severe pain. What should I do?” the first message read.
A senior nurse midwife from a facility in another district quickly responded, asking several questions about the patient’s obstetric history. The group learned this was the woman’s fourth pregnancy and that her previous deliveries were swift and uncomplicated; something was different this time.
Others chimed in and helped the nurse determine that the woman was definitely in labor—her cervix was four centimeters—and it wasn’t progressing normally.
The senior midwife reminded the young nurse that he wasn’t trained as a midwife and probably wasn’t equipped to handle the kind of complication they suspected. She advised him to administer fluids and transfer the woman to a referral hospital right away.
He thanked everyone for their guidance, but then—silence. Minutes, and eventually hours, passed and everyone on the chain grew anxious.
“Are you there? What’s happening??” someone finally texted.
At last, a response came: The mother made it to the hospital, the baby was born, and both were OK.
A few weeks later, a similar scenario played out when a man in a diabetic coma was brought to another health post. Through a series of messages about which drugs to administer and at what doses, the group helped the nurse, also working alone, stabilize the patient and arrange for his transfer to a hospital, where he eventually recovered in the ICU.