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Evaluation of an innovative biometric machine learning tool and its impact on newborn and infant health in Kenya

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, March 22, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Of the 20 countries with the highest maternal mortality ratios worldwide, 19 are in Africa and the region has the highest neonatal death rate in the world” (WHO, 2014). In many Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, health challenges are exacerbated by the high number of unrecorded births. In Kenya, these are estimated to be as high as 37% (AMREF, 2018). This means that not only is maternal and neonatal health at increased risk, but also that population sizes are under-estimated. Therefore, the scale of threat to health is much worse than official records indicate.

A recent literature review (White, 2018) and insights from work presented at conferences indicate that, whilst maternal and neonatal health apps are ubiquitous, very little has been done to test and evaluate the efficacy and sustainability of technologies in improving maternal and newborn health. This presents the opportunity to develop evidence for, improve and leverage mHealth for maternal and newborn care, particularly in under-resourced health ecosystems (Tamrat and Kachnowski, 2012).

Work to date has explored the acceptability of a mHealth toolkit to support midwives in Highland Scotland (White 2018). This led to the development and testing of a prototype toolkit with multidisciplinary teams in very remote parts of Highland Scotland (White and Mason, in preparation). This work has resulted in invited visits to Nairobi (December 2018) and engagement with the Amref University and members of their mLearning and ICT teams, which opened the possibility of collaborating with Amref to co-create an interface between their new mobile biometric tool and the smart machine learning aggregator that is currently being developed by Interactive Health Limited (White & Co) as part of a highly innovative public health project ([email protected]) in the NHS Highland Board area. The objective now is to achieve a significant reduction in newborn and infant mortality through co-creation of an mHealth tool that can be used by Community Health Workers to accurately record and monitor all births in Kenya.

The aim of this PhD is to evaluate the introduction of this such a tool and its impact on neonatal health in Kenya to inform recommendations for its wider application and scaling up. The fieldwork for the study will take place in Kibera, this the largest slum in Nairobi, and the largest urban slum in Africa. A broader aim is to develop insights into and infrastructure for personal digital health records with the potential to upscale and revolutionise the management and delivery of health care in Kenya for all citizens and within and across Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) globally.

This project will employ a mixed methods study, incorporating participatory and user-centred design approaches (Morgan, 2016) and rapid-cycle evaluation (Health Foundation, 2015; Morgan et al., in preparation). It will comprise: 1. evidence synthesis; 2. primary qualitative research; 3. health economic valuation and preference work; and 4. preparing for scale. The research will employ a novel north:south:north collaboration, involve business partnerships and exchange knowledge between the University of Aberdeen and the Amref University. It will include a public engagement with research programme of activities in the UK and in SSA and the student will be expected to undertake courses in public engagement work as well as in substantive and methodological skills development throughout the period of training.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of APPLIED HEALTH SCIENCE. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Health Science, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.


Candidates should contact the lead supervisor to discuss the project in advance of submitting an application, as supervisors will be expected to provide a letter of support for suitable applicants. Candidates will be informed after the application deadline if they have been shortlisted for interview.

Funding Notes

This project is part of a competition funded by the Institute of Applied Health Sciences. Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £15,680 per annum).

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a First Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.

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