Doctor’s Personal Journey to Bring Pregnancy Care to the Women of Nigeria

Tragedy often shapes us for the better. When Dr. Moses Owoicho Enokela, 35, was a young boy, he watched his brother get kicked in the chest while playing. If his brother had been in the United States, his injuries might have been treatable, but in Nigeria, he couldn’t get the help he needed in time. He died from his injury soon after.

“I decided to pursue medicine to prevent this kind of senseless death,” Enokela said.

Enokela went on to study medicine at the University of Port Harcourt with specialized medical studies at St. George’s, University of London, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, University of Twente, University of Leeds and the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. His expertise is in diagnostic imaging and reproductive health.

But it was another tragedy that would set him on a path to try to change health care in Nigeria.

Enokela was working at a community clinic in rural Port Harcourt, Nigeria, when Hope Ofori was brought in to give birth. There were complications, but Hope had never had an ultrasound, a service so common in the United States that most women get more than one over the course of their pregnancy. If she had, Enokela would have known that her placenta was obstructing her birth canal. Instead, he and his attendants could only guess as they scrambled to save her and her child.

There was nothing they could do without this crucial information. She and her baby died on the delivery bed.

“When I witnessed another death that could have been prevented, I realized I needed to do more,” Enokela said.

Sadly, Hope’s story isn’t unique. According to UNICEF, 1 in 13 Nigerian women die in pregnancy or childbirth. Nigeria makes up just 2% of the world’s population but accounts for 10% of maternal mortality.

Nearly half of Nigerian women (48.9%) aren’t getting the recommended amount of pregnancy care they should. Care that 96.6% of women in North America receive. This care can help them prepare for delivery, understand the warning signs of high-risk pregnancy, and even help prevent diseases like malaria and mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

With education and preventive care, most of these deaths are avoidable. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 75% of all maternal deaths are caused by severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and delivery complications. Treatments for these issues are well-known in the medical community, but the women of Nigeria simply aren’t getting access to the care they need.

“So I asked myself, why allow this to continue if really something could be done?” Enokela said. He decided to leave his job to commit to the cause. “I realized I couldn’t just have a comfortable doctor’s job and do nothing about this solvable problem for so many others like Hope. I needed to solve this decades-old problem, or no one was going to.”

In 2015, Enokela started SonoCare, a mobile diagnostic medical imaging provider focused on bringing services to the women who need them. And in 2016, Enokela brought SonoCare to Microsoft’s #Insiders4Good Fellowship.

“When I read the call for [the] application, ‘We are looking for people like you, Nigerian entrepreneurs who can’t stop thinking of that idea you have that will solve a local problem, as well as improve the lives of your fellow Nigerians,’ I saw myself in that statement, and I saw an opportunity to edge closer to my goal of solving this critical problem no one else seemed interested in,” he said.

Windows Insiders’ 6-month fellowship program strives to open up opportunities to entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas by leading them through a journey of strategic thinking about the problems they’re trying to solve, acquiring the customers they’ll serve, building their products and monetizing their solutions.

As part of our fellowship, Windows Insiders brought together 25 Nigerian entrepreneurs, including Enokela, for a weeklong boot camp to kick-start their businesses. Enokela used this experience to learn about the importance of networking, mentoring, leveraging technology, creating problem-centric solutions, and crowdfunding.

“We got mentorship that helped improve our model, then we learned how technology could help grow our business. The fellowship helped bring about our first website, and we learned to utilize useful tools for businesses,” he said.

Enokela also received a Microsoft Surface Book, which he described as “indispensable in helping us upgrade our researching and market analysis processes.” He used it and what he’d learned at the boot camp to start his first crowdfunding campaign.

“I got to know about the possibilities of crowdfunding and the Indiegogo website through the #Insiders4Good fellowship. The Indiegogo project was my first ever crowdfunding campaign, and it turned out [to be] a huge success for us at SonoCare.”

His Indiegogo campaign was fully funded in September 2017 and raised over $16,000. With these funds, he was able to purchase the mobile ultrasound and electrocardiogram equipment he needed.

With his new equipment, he spent 2 days in Diobu Waterfront, a low-income, rural community in Nigeria, performing ultrasounds for women who had never had one. Out of the 116 ultrasounds he performed, he identified 72 high-risk pregnancies and 22 women who didn’t even know they were pregnant.

Enokela hopes the future of SonoCare will help the women of Nigeria have longer lives through healthier pregnancies. “We are demonstrating that with proper care, we can save lives,” he said. “We can prevent complications [in] pregnancies if we can detect these problems earlier.”

Fewer than 20% of healthcare facilities in Nigeria offer emergency obstetric care, and only 35% of deliveries include skilled birth attendants. SonoCare is working with local facilities to fill in these gaps in capability and are negotiating a partnership with a local state government for exclusive service rights to its public healthcare facilities.

“We need to scale our operations because we found the need [is] overwhelming… So we are looking at getting more equipment, personnel, and other resources,” Enokela said. “[W]e are working [to seek] a $100,000 series A funding round to fund our plans [to] scale so we can meet the urgency of demand.”

And technology is poised to make communication easier than ever. “[W]e found that we can improve the benefits of this intervention if users and healthcare providers [can] have unfettered access to their diagnostic reports, round-the-clock from anywhere,” he said.

A mobile app, the first of its kind in the African market, is on the horizon to make this possible. “[W]e want to implement new technology by developing and deploying a mobile app for easier access to our services and cloud-based patient records that will give users and their doctors 24/7 access to their records. This could help save more lives and help us end paper reporting.”

SonoCare is also expanding social media outreach targeted at economically disadvantaged Nigerian women to better deliver free interventions where they’re needed most.

“It was so hard convincing people to listen to my story, but I had to find a way around. The fellowship offered that opportunity, plus some credibility and positive association,” Enokela said.

As a mentor once told him, “Go out and do what you have to do. Then never give up.” Enokela still carries that advice with him in his journey to save women like Hope.