From Kagawa, Saving Mothers and Children in Asia
The Melody International Ltd. operates a perinatal telemedicine platform called "Melody i." Its principle is “for expectant mother’s safe and secure deliveries around the world.”
This means that the company provides telemedicine services not only in Japan but also in other 11 countries, particularly in Southeast Asia such as Thailand. The small startup in Kagawa is now expanding its safe and secure childbirth services coverage globally.
A Collaboration Project for the Development of ICT Telemedicine for Perinatal Care and Diabetes in Thailand.
Melody International Ltd.
The integration of “iCTG,” a fetal monitoring device, and “Melody i,” a perinatal telemedicine platform could enable the healthcare management of mothers and children, by ensuring a safe and secure childbirth even in remote areas, where there are no medical facilities available. This can be seen a technology that helps on a periodic screening process that can predict and avoid accidental childbirth with high risks. Furthermore, it can also help reduce the on-site workload that caused by the limited number of obstetric facilities, obstetricians, and gynecologists as well as the litigation risks. Today, "Melody i" has been introduced throughout Chiang Mai in Thailand and is actively expanding, especially in rural areas where obstetricians are limited.
We Must Face the Reality that There are Mothers and Babies Who Die in Childbirth
CHAPTER1 The Issue
Founder & CEO Ms. Ogata
The Melody International is a well-known venture that saves the lives of mothers and children worldwide. The headquarters are about a 25-minute drive from the center of Takamatsu City in Kagawa, with a peaceful environment of rice paddies and low mountains. This is the second time that Ms. Ogata has launched a business. In 2015, she founded the Melody International as a startup, which was spin-off from a company that promoted electronic medical records in obstetrics and gynecology fields. Thanks to the Corona disaster, the "Telemedicine" is now widely recognized, comparing with the number of supporters before the event.
“My first company was doing very well. Then we were going out of our way and enter into a different field, telemedicine, which at the time was considered to be ‘unsuccessful’. Under such circumstance, people was wondered why I decided to select this field. Nevertheless, I thought it was worthwhile. Perinatal care in Japan is believed to be the best in the world, while there are many countries with insufficient obstetricians/gynecologists to begin with. Since many people still lose their lives during pregnancy and childbirth, we cannot just leave them to die, can we?”.
This disparity in medical care is also acceptable in Japan, as it has become more common in rural areas, where the birthrate is declining, the population is aging, and the medical personnel is shortage. In Kagawa, it is difficult for residents living in mountainous areas, far from the center of the prefecture, and in small islands to commute every few weeks to see specialist at hospitals. As soon as the Melody International was launched, the company received grants from Kagawa and gradually being recognized throughout Japan. In 2017, about 3 years after its establishment, a cooperative project has been established with the Chiang Mai University in Thailand, was adopted as JICA’s Grassroots Technical Cooperation Project and started as a full-scale project.
Work as ‘Japan Team’ Abroad
CHAPTER2 Collaboration with JICA
So far, the service sounds like a lifesaver to close the medical disparity between regions. However, in reality, it did not work out that way.
“Our products are medical devices, which even if medical staff and patients understand the benefits of our products, they cannot make decisions to adopt the products by themselves. In such situation, it is required to inquire the local government or authorized ministries related to healthcare on budget permission. Regardless of our great effort in approaching them, by directly visiting them as a representative of a small company, we would only be ignored”.
Ms. Ogata says that at such times, she was able to rely on JICA as a partner for co-creation, where they have built relationships with local governments through technical cooperation and the dispatched Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs).
“Not only did they formally connect us with government officials, but they also understood our project very well and were able to give us valuable advice as needed according to the situation. Besides, I don't think that just handing out a device and saying, "Here, use it," is enough to make the device truly localized in the community. To encourage a long-term utilization of the device, JICA has been continuously focusing on the development of human resources for healthcare, and even after we return to Japan, there was the local office who still there to support. The device itself is inorganic, but requires human interaction as it is passed from hand to hand. It is also suggested to have a strong bond with other Japanese working team to work together when we do business overseas.”
In order to deliver the power of digital technology to those who are truly in need, we will support them by utilizing all the knowledge and networks we have accumulated so far.
By doing so, we will protect the "lives and health" of mothers and children. This is exactly what JICA is all about and is in line with one of the SDGs Principles, "leaving no one behind".
Wish to Play a Healthy "Melody" for babies around the world.
As starting the project with JICA, doctors at Chiang Mai University have adopted iCTG and collected data from about 1500 cases. Based on the data, about 50 pregnant women and nursing mothers were advised to seek for larger medical facilities for further diagnosis. As a result, potential defects were found in about 10 of them, and 5 were informed that their lives were saved by iCTG. One high-tech startup was able to save lives by identifying abnormal signs, which might have been unnoticed and by providing prompt treatment to pregnant women and nursing mothers in high-risk conditions.
“When I heard that, I was impressed and excited at the same time. The doctor who was involved even said that 'if this can help us to save more lives, we would like to promote it throughout Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand’ This was very pleasant to hear.”
In addition to Thailand, Ms. Ogata also has an experience in co-creation with JICA in Bhutan, where it was difficult to access medical institutions for various reasons. The co-creation objective was to improve the 3 accesses; the physical access, the economic access, and the social customary access, which are necessary to achieve universal health coverage as stated in the SDGs, through the power of digital technology. Ms. Ogata felt this activity was worthwhile and is now looking forward to its future.
“At first, I was concerned about the differences in language, culture, and business practices, but now I don't get stressed in taking actions abroad anymore. Once I jumped in, I found that people have the same wishes as we are. Pregnant women want to have healthy babies, and medical professionals want to help the patients in front of them. We hope to continuously contribute health support to those who wish to protect pregnant women and their babies!”
Ms. Ogata sincerely hopes to deliver her company services to all pregnant women and nursing mothers to save the baby lives as many as possible. Currently, Melody I has collected more than 30,000 cases from overseas. The collected data may be hard to understand by looking at it, but it is actually a lifeline of many mothers and children that has been saved. The word "Melody" used in the company name also refer to the baby's heartbeat, which can be heard during prenatal checkups. With Ms. Ogata's gentle gaze and boundless passion in running this company, she aims to change the world through the power of digital technology. "Melody I", which was found in Kagawa, expanded throughout Chiang Mai, will continue to grow and protect the “healthy melodies” around the world.
Comments from project member
JICA DX Office Masayuki Furukawa
A mobile fetal monitoring device, which is the telemedicine system of Melody International, is steadily changing perinatal care in the regions, where it has been introduced while addressing the shortage of human resources and infrastructure globally with the power of digital technology. It is remarkable that the company's solution was originated from Kagawa, a prefecture that has many depopulated areas and isolated islands with the highest historical perinatal mortality rate in Japan. Through the co-creation with the global organizations, we learned that there are certain challenges that Japan and other countries around the world are facing in common, which can be addressed by the shared solutions. Not only in Thailand, but also in Bhutan, a country with many mountainous areas, the company could distributed and used the iCTG nationwide with a cooperation of the Ministry of Health, UNDP, and JICA. The solution could be shared cross-border and can still saving many babies globally today.