Butterfly Network expands maternal ultrasound efforts across Africa

Ultrasound developer Butterfly Network has launched the second phase of its efforts to establish maternal and fetal health programs in sub-Saharan Africa powered by its hand-held probes.

During the initial rollout, 500 of the company’s iQ+ imaging devices were distributed among 224 healthcare facilities in Kenya in late 2022, while a three-month program helped train more than 500 front-line technicians.

Now—in collaboration with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and their education partner, the Global Ultrasound Institute—Butterfly aims to replicate the work with another 500 portable probes headed to South Africa. The program as a whole was previously funded by a $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“South Africa is an emerging market that continues to have disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and stillbirth,” Butterfly’s senior director for global health, Sachita Shah, said in a statement

“Patients need easier access to antenatal imaging, and clinicians need better capabilities for screening high-risk conditions that lead to disproportionately worse pregnancy outcomes in rural areas in the public sector,” Shah said. “Together with CHAI and GUSI, we can tackle this by making ultrasound much more accessible, so high-risk conditions can be identified earlier in care, which is known to improve outcomes.”

In South Africa, the program will span up to six provinces, after beginning this week in the country’s Eastern Cape region. There, about 50 midlevel practitioners have enrolled in a weeklong obstetric ultrasound training course provided by GUSI.

“We know this device distribution and training model works—phase one efforts in Kenya are proving to be an incredible success,” said GUSI CEO Kevin Bergman. “More than 200,000 scans have since been conducted! We expect to see this impact replicated in South Africa, by similarly providing health workers with the equipment, in depth training, and necessary skills to use Butterfly for antenatal screening, which they will bring back to their communities to create long-term, sustainable care.”

The program has also been supported by logistics partners—including Core Group, a distributor of Apple products across the continent, and JAMF, a provider of Apple Enterprise Management and privacy software, as the hand-held probes connect to a smartphone during use. Other collaborators include the digital mobile virtual network operator Melon Mobile and Zebra Medical, which serves as the South African distribution partner for Butterfly devices.

“With access to innovative technologies such as the Butterfly iQ+, we can enhance diagnostic capabilities and strengthen healthcare delivery systems, ultimately helping save the lives of mothers and babies, and build healthier communities,” said CHAI senior country adviser Vishal Brijlal. “We look forward to working closely with Butterfly Network and the Global Ultrasound Institute to achieve our shared goal of advancing global health equity.”