GE Healthcare hand-held ultrasound in pilot NHS test, $20M Nigerian health initiative

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Vscan Access--Courtesy of GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare ($GE) launched its hand-held ultrasound, Vscan Access, last May at a World Health Organization meeting in Switzerland. Now, the technology is in the process of becoming more widely available and incorporated into routine pregnancy care.

The U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) is backing a small pilot study of the hand-held scanners to identify breech babies before the onset of labor to better avoid cesarean sections. Even more aggressively, GE alongside the U.S. and Nigerian governments are investing $20 million via the company's Healthymagination Mother and Child Initiative in using the Vscan device in prenatal screenings in Nigeria to identify at-risk pregnancies.

The NHS pilot test is slated for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) in the East of England. The hospital delivers about 6,000 babies a year, including about 150 full-term breech babies. The NHS is providing 25 of the hand-held Vscan scanners, and 190 midwives at the hospital are being trained to use them. There will be one in every delivery room, with two in the antenatal ward and the midwife-led birthing unit.

"It's a real opportunity to improve the care of women giving birth at the NNUH," said NNUH consultant obstetrician Martin Cameron in a statement. "Until now we have had abdominal palpating as a screening test, the scanners will provide an effective diagnostic test. As we are a pilot site, our results will be analysed to see how successful we are in assessing the breeches. We'll also publish our results nationally and internationally."

The expectation is that the ultrasounds will help identify more breech babies, who aren't presenting head-first to pass through the vaginal canal, in advance of labor. When breech presentation isn't found until labor, emergency cesarean sections and other complications can be the result. The traditional approach, palpating to identify the position of the baby, relies entirely upon the midwife's level of skill and is only about 70% effective.

Vscan Access in use--Courtesy of GE Healthcare

In Nigeria, the incorporation of Vscan into prenatal care will already be on a much larger scale. The initiative is targeting 1,300 midwives and prenatal healthcare providers with over 100,000 hours of training over the next three years. The aim is to expand access to prenatal screenings to more than 2 million expectant mothers in Nigeria by 2020. While in the U.K., the Vscan offers supplemental ultrasound monitoring, in Nigeria for many women this may be their primary or sole access to ultrasound imaging of their pregnancy.

"The U.S. government is committed to engaging in effective and innovative alliances with the private sector to support Nigeria's critical development needs," said U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle in a statement corresponding with the initiative's launch in early March. "We are proud to collaborate with GE to bring quality health services to millions of women and children in Nigeria."

- here's the GE announcement on NHS
- and the U.S. government release on Nigeria

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