A Human-Computer Interaction researcher at the University of Cape Town, who doubles as a lecturer at Koforidua Technical University in the Eastern Region, Sarah Dsane, says an increasing need for information for especially new parents has seen them resort to digital technologies in accessing parenting information and support.
Referencing her research on “understanding how parents are using digital resources in bandwidth-constrained communities,” Madam Dsane observed that most online content lacks local relevance beyond access.
She said it is a growing field and requires understanding challenges and initiating processes to mitigate them, drawing the need to create content locally situated in the African context to enhance engagement and better assimilation. Following, she touched on the challenge of competing information sources that may sometimes be conflicting and confusing, hindering parents’ abilities to make informed judgments.
“…though it will have the general underpinning of information related to parenting especially during the early months of pregnancy or child care, sometimes the online content does not reflect resources available in the local context.”
She further highlighted existing challenges within the health facilities. Madam Dsane said women from diverse cultural, economic and educational backgrounds are encouraged to visit the health facilities to access antenatal or postnatal care; however, they most often felt disconnected from the health information they receive partly because of low health literacy and difficulty in assimilating the medical terms during their interactions with their physicians.
She said that by making information simple, such communication gaps could be bridged, creating an enabling environment where parents can probe and understand better.
“The other aspect is that generally when parents visit hospitals, they have interactions with medical staff, now these interactions are in various forms but then you will realize that most parents are not able to assimilate the information given them because it sounds more theoretical and scientific. In their context they want simple practical solutions they can easily apply.”
She also touched on the need to encourage group-centred care within the local communities to empower information sharing, relationship building, and interactional space for mothers. Madam Dsane said
“When you create such spaces for mothers it becomes safe spaces where they are not scared to talk about their vulnerabilities and draw energy from other women, that in itself is very significant for learning.”
Sarah further explained that her research focuses on parenting within the first thousand days of a child’s life, a period from conception to the child’s second birthday. She said this period is critical in every human life as the brain development is at its highest, approximately 80%.
This, she said, is one reason to provide parents with credible information that ensures the well-being of mothers and babies and reduces maternal mortality.
As a computer scientist, her research goal is that by understanding the dynamics through the lived experiences of parents, she, together with the parents and other relevant stakeholders, can leverage the use of existing technologies to enhance the sharing and uptake of maternal health information within the local communities.
She hopes to collaborate with other technologists and UX designers to design health communication technologies that are bandwidth sensitive to allow for health content sharing without internet access.
Finally, she added that Ghana, similar to other African countries, are predominantly patriarchal, which means women are not autonomous decision-makers, so maternal health interventions targeted at them may not yield the needed results. In her opinion, creating support systems and infrastructure that targets both couples and community members may ultimately facilitate the mother’s well-being.
“if we are not grooming the men, and making resources available to them so they can effectively support their wives now, when do we intend to do it? It will mean we are also enabling the existing barriers. We have to move to spaces where we create support systems and infrastructure that helps both couples and facilitates the well-being of all mothers.”
The research interviewed 23 participants made up of mothers and fathers. Another 46 mothers were also observed in their antenatal clinics and postnatal clinics.