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Emory’s safe+natal program receives support to use AI for maternal-child health in Guatemala
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Brian Katzowitz
Senior Director, Health Communications and Media Relations
A Mayan woman receives prenatal care with safe+natal resources has selected safe+natal at Emory University and its partners at Maya Health Alliance | Wuqu’ Kawoq to receive a $1.8 million grant to equip midwives with an AI-powered application that will help detect problems earlier in pregnancy and avoid preventable deaths in the first month of life.

The grant will allow Emory and Maya Health Alliance to continue implementing the safe+natal initiative, which has demonstrated enormous success in improving pregnancy outcomes in Maya communities in rural Guatemala.

Guatemala has one of the highest neonatal mortality rates in Latin America, especially among the country’s Indigenous Maya population. While many problems leading to fetal distress during delivery and poor fetal growth can be addressed when identified early, the technology needed to detect them isn’t readily available everywhere.

Co-designed by the husband and wife team Gari Clifford, Chair of the Biomedical Informatics Department in the School of Medicine, and Rachel Hall-Clifford, a medical anthropologist in the Center for the Study of Human Health and assistant professor in the Departments of Sociology and Global Health, safe+natal combines low-cost monitoring technology to support midwives in decision-making for their patients by offering access and training for a prenatal monitoring kit. Utilizing a smartphone, blood pressure cuff, and ultrasound to measure fetal growth during pregnancy and detect hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, the kit provides an efficient way to detect possible warning signs and help connect mothers to appropriate follow-up care.

The safe+natal toolkit also provides unprecedented rich data on fetal activity throughout pregnancy of the Maya community. Using this data, Clifford and colleagues in Emory’s AI.Humanity initiative — a university-wide effort to advance AI technologies for societal benefit — have developed several AI innovations that they hope will continue to significantly improve outcomes in the Maya community, and beyond.

“The AI for the Global Goals Impact Challenge Award will enable us to take our decision support algorithms to the edge of healthcare. By literally putting AI in the hands of Indigenous Mayan midwives, on their phones, they will be able to make instant assessments of fetal wellbeing, on a scale only limited by the number of available smartphones,” says Gari Clifford.

Rachel Hall-Clifford adds, “co-designing the safe+natal toolkit with our Guatemalan midwife colleagues has transformed the way we think about technology for community use. It really can – and should – be led by local partners. It’s been incredible to see our Emory-based team help facilitate this.”

The Emory and Maya Health Alliance partnership is one of 15 organizations receiving support through the $25 million philanthropy challenge for projects that use artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate progress towards these goals.’s AI for the Global Goals Impact Challenge is part of Google’s company-wide commitment to help accelerate progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Out of many submitted proposals, 15 were selected for funding. Importantly, all of the projects will be open-sourced, so other organizations can build upon the work.

“Each of the 15 selected organizations share our vision for using AI to accelerate progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and each organization brings their own expertise to help move the needle,” says James Manyika, Google’s Senior Vice President of Research, Technology & Society. “We are inspired by the possibilities they see for how AI can be harnessed to help people solve societal problems, and are excited about the collective impact they will have over the next three years.”

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