Newcastle University develops VR to train refugee midwives in Dadaab

Newcastle University develops a new VR software that hopes to reduce neonatal and maternal deaths in Dadaab refugee camps.

Alice Holmes
27th February 2021
In northeast Kenya, there are currently over 400 000 refugees living in Dadaab refugee camps, with thousands of women giving birth each year and a limited supply of midwives available to support them. This has led to high neonatal and maternal death rates.

In order to tackle this issue and improve these conditions, researchers at Newcastle University have collaborated with Kenyetta University and Black Rhino (a virtual reality production company) to develop new ways to train midwives in Dadaab. 

The programme began in May 2020 with two key aims. First, to teach refugees to become midwives. Second, to build awareness among doctors in the camp and generate greater understanding of traditional practices. The programme consisted of rolling out digital tools across Dadaab’s refugee camps and workshops and training courses where midwives could learn how to use VR and design their own VR stories. 

Dr Jen Bagelman who is the project’s PI at Newcastle University has said: “This collaborative project responds to a resounding call we have heard from refugee women living in Dadaab for more midwifery care.”

“You cannot learn this kind of care from a medical textbook – digital stories are an important way to share our knowledge.”

Hodan Ahmed

The manager of Black Rhino VR, Brian Afande, also reiterates that: “This work brings to the centre those who are so often forgotten in conversations on maternal and digital health: namely, women without full citizenship rights.”

The programme has been a success. The response from midwives involved in the programme, such as Hodan Ahmed, underpin the advantages of VR technologies and their help: “As refugee midwives, we know how to make mothers feel comforted and cared for in the camps. You cannot learn this kind of care from a medical textbook – digital stories are an important way to share our knowledge.”

Equally, due to the favourable outcome, the team has been invited to apply for a second round of funding in order to expand the reach of their successful digital toolkit to other humanitarian contexts in Eastern Africa. 

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