Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) around the world are working to improve maternal health and make a difference in the lives of women, families, and communities. In many countries, CSOs play a critical role in the health sector by providing quality maternal health services, and by supporting advocacy to ensure government policies are implemented, funds invested and tracked, and health outcomes measured and published.
In 2013, with support from Merck Inc. through the Merck for Mothers Program, Family Care International (FCI) completed a comprehensive mapping of the maternal health advocacy environment in two countries, Uganda and Zambia. Data for the mappings were collected at the national level (and at the district level in Uganda) using a multi-dimensional methodology which triangulated data from key informant interviews, focus group discussions, and desk research.
The mapping examined each country’s maternal health policy framework, identified stakeholders working in maternal health advocacy, and analyzed opportunities and challenges for maternal health advocacy organizations. It also highlighted the potential for engaging the private sector on maternal health, and put forward a set of recommendations for strengthening maternal health advocacy efforts, and the role of CSOs in particular.
In Uganda, the mapping found that while there is a relatively active health advocacy sector and strong policy framework in place for maternal health, advocacy organizations are not coordinating efforts well, leading to a fragmented advocacy environment. In addition, maternal health advocacy organizations face critical resource constraints, and are not effectively measuring the impact of their advocacy work. For additional information, the full mapping report can be accessed here.
In Zambia, there exists a favorable policy environment for maternal health, and a strong evidence-based decision-making ethos in government. While Zambia is a signatory to a number of commitments to improve maternal health services, the maternal health advocacy environment is not particularly strong or robust. More information is available in the full mapping report here.
The findings from these mappings revealed a number of common themes and recommendations for supporting the critical role of CSOs in both countries:
- Establish or enhance a coordinating mechanism through which the growing and diverse body of advocacy organizations can work together and advance common messages, agendas, and strategies.
- Support local advocacy organizations, which often operate with limited resources, staffing, and capacity, to build their administrative, management, and planning capabilities in conducting effective advocacy.
- Strengthen monitoring and evaluation of maternal advocacy efforts by supporting maternal health advocacy organizations in the development of tools, indicators, and mechanisms for measuring advocacy outcomes and impact.
Sustained and long-term investments in supporting CSOs to conduct effective advocacy for maternal health are needed now, more than ever. Without these investments, we will continue to be far behind in reaching national and global commitments for maternal health.