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Top Researcher Seeks to Identify Women at Risk of Developing Maternal Complications

Prof. Annette Nakimuli who has previously discovered the gene in African women that pre-disposes them to high blood pressure in pregnancy or preeclampsia will now be studying characteristics of women who are likely to suffer four maternal health related complications so that health workers can intervene early on. The complications include Preeclampsia, pre-term birth, still birth and intra- uterine growth restriction where a baby in the womb does not grow as normally expected.
Prof. Annette Nakimuli was the first to identify the gene in African Women that predisposes them to Preeclampsia. In the new study they are identifying characteristics in women's blood or biomarkers.

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For the next five years, one of Uganda’s top scientists will be working to find a solution that could solve the long problem of maternal mortality where 336 mothers in every 100,000 live births still succumb.

Prof. Annette Nakimuli who has previously identified the gene in African women that pre-disposes them to high blood pressure in pregnancy or preeclampsia will now be studying characteristics of women who are likely to suffer four maternal health related complications such that health workers can intervene early on.

 The complications include Preeclampsia, pre-term birth, still birth and intra- uterine growth restriction where a baby in the womb (a fetus) does not grow as normally expected.

In an interview with URN on Tuesday, the consultant Obstetrician/ Gynecologist  said they plan to recruit into the study up to 4,000  first time mothers in their first trimester of pregnancy who will be seeking antenatal care from either Mulago Women’s and Neonatal  or Kawempe National Referral hospitals.

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She has secured a grant of up to $1million for the project through a fellowship called Calestous Juma Science Leadership program designed to support local scientists developing innovations needed to end the pandemic and address urgent global health priorities such as maternal related complications.

In Uganda, preeclampsia is almost overtaking bleeding as the number one killer for mothers and the expert says this research comes in handy to identify not just the genes but also biomarkers in the blood of (including healthy) women to predict whether they can in future develop these life threatening complications.

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Currently, interventions into these complications are mostly as a result of noticing symptoms whereby some mothers never get to the health facilities and yet some get there when it is too late. 

The biomarkers if established in the new study will help in determining not only which medicines to offer but also which women to watch during the antenatal duration.

Once these tests are complete, in future, Nakimuli who is also the Dean School of Medicine says will go into randomized trials that may result into an actual intervention into care.

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However, even before we get there, the researcher says they are helping the Ministry of Health develop a prevention framework to help thousands of mothers already experiencing these complications  especially preeclampsia as bleeding  has to some extent been addressed.

They have so far completed a needs assessment study and are establishing a knowledge and perceptions gap among both patients and health workers on treating the pregnancy related high blood pressure.

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