A price too high to bear: the costs of maternal mortality to families and communities

Robinson Karuga is research coordinator at FCI-Kenya.

A meeting today in Nairobi, hosted by FCI-Kenya, brought Kenyan government officials together with representatives from research organizations, health and development NGOs, civil society groups, and the private sector, for the launch of a groundbreaking research project that will shed new light on the financial and non-financial costs of maternal mortality.

This research, to be conducted by FCI in partnership with the Kenyan health ministry’s Division of Reproductive Health, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and the Kenya Medical Research Institute/Centers for Disease Control (KEMRI/CDC-Kisumu), and with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Kenya office of the UK Department for International Development (DFID-Kenya), aims to fill a critical gap in knowledge about the impact of a woman’s death in pregnancy or childbirth on her family, her community, and her nation. This will provide a critical resource for advocates working — in Kenya, in other developing countries, and at the global level — for increased political commitment and financial investment in improving the availability, quality, and utilization of maternal health services.

Previous studies in a number of countries have suggested that children who lose their mother are more likely to die themselves or experience stunted growth and less likely to be educated. This three-year research project seeks to provide the first full accounting of the direct monetary cost of a maternal death for the household, the indirect costs in terms of lost productivity and income, and the “social costs” of maternal deaths to families and communities in terms of the changes in household structure and household responsibilities. Research will take place in Nyanza Province in western Kenya, in an area of high poverty, low utilization of skilled childbirth care, and among the highest levels of maternal mortality in Kenya.

We are all eagerly awaiting the findings of this research to propel advocacy around safe pregnancy and childbirth, and will report occasionally on The FCI Blog about the project’s progress.

Partnering to promote reproductive health for Latin America’s indigenous women

Martha Murdock is FCI’s vice president for regional programs.

I have just arrived in Lima, Peru, where — together with Alexia Escobar and Maritza Segura, FCI’s national coordinators in Bolivia and Ecuador — I will be attendingthe High Level Meeting on Reproductive Health and Intercultural Care in Latin America.

This meeting, hosted by the Peruvian Ministry of Health and the Organismo Andino de Salud as part of  a regional framework sponsored by the Spanish Agency for International Development (AECID) and the UN Population Fund—UNFPA, will bring together high-level health officials from the health ministries of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Venezuela. FCI, a partner in this regional program, is one of the few NGOs invited to the meeting.

In Latin American and the Caribbean, maternal mortality was reduced by 41% between 1990 and 2008. Looking at overall regional and national data, the many countries in the region seem to be on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal(MDG) 5 target of reducing maternal mortality by ¾ over 20 years. However, when the data is disaggregated by ethnicity,there remain substantial gaps in access to reproductive health services, information, and commodities among indigenous women. Surveys in countries like Guatemala have shown that maternal mortality is up to 3 times higher among indigenous women (211 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) than among non-indigenous women (70 per 100,000).

In seeking to address these gaps and achieve MDG 5 among all population groups, governments in the region recognize the need to adopt an intercultural approach to maternal and reproductive health services. Since 2009, FCI has been working to strengthen the advocacy capacity of indigenous women’s organizations to demand culturally-appropriate health care, and to promote their direct participation in the design and monitoring of maternal health care services that are sensitive to their cultural traditions. We also work with ministries of health across the region to advance maternal health policies and programs that better respond to indigenous women’s cultural expectations and needs.

This week’s meeting will review the progress that has been made so far, share lessons learned, and set a path to define and agree upon a basic set of indicators of culturally-friendly maternal health services. One expected, and important, outcome of the meeting will be the adoption by all of the Ministers of Health of a joint statement that commits to strengthening and further intensifying measures to make maternal health services more culturally acceptable to indigenous women, in order to improve their health status. Follow The FCI Blog to read their final statement, and to stay up to date as FCI closely monitors its implementation.

Mapping Misoprostol for Postpartum Hemorrhage

Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer in FCI’s Global Advocacy program.

Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) is the largest cause of maternal mortality, accounting for nearly one-quarter of maternal deaths. Preventing and treating PPH is especially difficult in places where most births occur in homes or in local clinics and where access to emergency obstetric care is limited. Evidence shows that misoprostol —a medicine that can be delivered in pill form and stored without refrigeration — can play an important role in preventing and treating PPH.

Just last month, misoprostol was added to the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines for the prevention of PPH, providing another opportunity to expand women’s access to this safe and inexpensive medicine. It is critically important that clear, evidence-based information about misoprostol and its appropriate uses be disseminated to ministries of health, regulatory authorities, health system managers, health workers, and other key audiences.

FCI, working with Gynuity Health Projects, commissioned a mapping to identify activities and approaches being taken by organizations working on misoprostol for PPH. Over thirty organizations were asked to describe their activities, share their motivations for including misoprostol in their work, discuss barriers they have encountered, and suggest strategies for addressing these barriers.  One of our most surprising findings: the integration of misoprostol for PPH into reproductive health programming is rapidly gaining traction.  Several organizations noted that misoprostol offers a real opportunity to make a difference in maternal mortality—one that is not dependent on waiting for health systems to be strengthened—and they want to act on this opportunity as quickly as possible to save women’s lives.

The mapping highlights the need for several key actions:

  • Build consensus around evidence-based guidelines: There remain concerns about insufficient data supporting misoprostol’s distribution and use at the community/home level, and whether promotion of misoprostol at this level could deter women from seeking care at facilities with trained providers. While these concerns may be valid from an intellectual perspective, they ignore the realities faced by women giving birth in low-resource settings: that basic childbirth care in facilities (including access to oxytocin, which requires refrigeration and injection) is still not available to a large number of women.
  • Address misoprostol’s association with abortion: Misoprostol is a drug that has multiple promises for saving lives, including its use for abortion. While this has political implications in many areas, health providers require accurate, evidence-based information about how misoprostol is best used for each indication— labor induction, PPH prevention, PPH treatment, postabortion care, and abortion.

The mapping revealed key areas of convergence, as well as disagreement, within the global policy and scientific community. Building on the findings, and in response to the challenges outlined in this report, FCI will work with partners to identify policy approaches on which consensus can be achieved; to harmonize messages regarding the use of misoprostol for PPH; and to influence policy change in support of misoprostol at the national and global levels.

While more research is needed to build the evidence on community-level distribution, misoprostol clearly shows promise for meeting several reproductive health needs of women, including the prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. It is time to capitalize on its ready availability, low cost, convenience, and safety, and get it to women in ways that will best protect their health and preserve their lives. 

To read the full mapping report, click here: Mapping_Miso_For_PPH

To read about FCI’s work on misoprostol for PPH, click here.

FCI co-sponsors UN event on girls, women, AIDS

The International Peace Institute, in collaboration with FCI, the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations, and Women Deliver, hosted a policy forum entitled Prevention and Protection Save Lives: Girls, Women, and HIV on the sidelines of the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS on June 8th. This description of the event is cross-posted from the UNAIDS website.

HIV is now recognized as the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. The forum aimed to identify and strengthen the response to HIV, and to raise awareness about the interconnectedness of women’s health issues in relation to the broader development agenda.

In this light, the high level panel brought together Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, UN Women; Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director (Programs), UNFPA; Carmen Barroso, Regional Director, IPPF/WHR; Jan Beagle Deputy Executive Director, Management and External Relations, UNAIDS; and Ms Lindsay Menard-Freeman, programme officer at Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, to discuss lessons learned, current challenges, and the path forward.

“Young people are now the actors, mobilising for prevention, taking ownership of the AIDS response and shaping the attitudes of future leaders,” said UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassadors Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess of Norway Mette-Marit who opened the forum. “We have to make sure that the next wave of leadership is equipped, engaged and sufficiently supported to maintain and develop the response.”

Photo credit: Women Deliver

Also participating in the discussion was UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox, a strong women’s rights activist: “We have the knowledge, we have the treatment,” said Ms Annie Lennox and urged world leaders gathering at the High Level Meeting on AIDS to take action on women and girls: “This is our moment: Don’t let us down.”

The Executive Director of UN Women called for leadership on this: “We know what has to be done and we know what works. And we can do better to stop this epidemic. With political will we can create the fiscal space to make women and girls a priority,” said Ms Bachelet.

The discussion, moderated by James Chau, Goodwill Ambassador, UNAIDS and a journalist with China CCTV, highlighted that young women in particular are vulnerable to HIV.  As a result of a combination of biological and socio-cultural factors, nearly a quarter of all new global HIV infections are among young women aged 15-24. “Knowing your epidemic in gender terms is critical. Human rights, including the sexual and reproductive rights of all women and girls – in particular women and girls living with HIV – must be protected and promoted in all HIV and global health programmes.”

However, progress has been made. More than 60 countries have shown their commitment to gender equality by implementing the UNAIDS Agenda for Women and Girls and HIV, engaging over 400 civil society organizations.

“It’s important to remember that young people are actors, and young people are asking for what they need,” said Ms Menard-Freeman. “Now that we are here [at the High Level Meeting on AIDS], we need the voices of young people to be heard.”

One of the critical examples raised as a model for a consolidated approach to women’s health was the United Nation’s Every Woman Every Child campaign. The campaign, launched during the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit, has so far seen a US$ 40 billion commitment by countries to improve the health of women and children. If implemented, it is estimated that the strategy could save up to 10 million lives of women and children by 2015.

The new UNAIDS Strategy 2011 – 2015: Getting to Zero [pdf] has made advancing human rights and gender equality for the HIV response one of its three key strategic directions, and is committed to ensure that the rights of women and girls in the context of HIV.

SRH Accountability in Ecuador (part 2)

Maritza Segura is FCI’s national coordinator in Ecuador. Last week, she and FCI colleagues helped to coordinate the launch of Ecuador’s National Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health Observatory in Quito. You can read Maritza’s previous post about this meeting here. This successful technical meeting, organized by Ecuador’s National Health Council (CONASA) with generous support from the MacArthur Foundation, had a regional profile; at the end of the meeting, Maritza provides this update:

The role of Ecuador’s national Observatory will be critical – it will monitor and produce reports measuring the country’s fulfillment of its obligations around sexual and reproductive health and rights, with a particular focus on diversity, gender, and generational issues and on the rights of women in indigenous communities.

The Quito meeting was designed to foster a regional dialogue about accountability. In addition to Ecuadorian participants, delegates from similar observatories in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Chile, and Uruguay were invited to share their challenges, strategies, and lessons learned. While Latin America is quite diverse in terms of ethnicity, political dynamics, and other factors, all of the observatories share certain common challenges. Access to relevant data is often difficult, and transparency legislation varies from country to country. Processing statistics, updating data, translating it for different political and technical audiences, and producing relevant and timely reports are all complex, time-consuming, and costly. All of the national observatories shared concerns around their financial sustainability, because this kind of accountability work is only effective if data and analysis are produced on a consistent basis.

Accountability is becoming an increasingly important and visible issue in global health, both nationally and on the international stage, and these three days were an interesting and rewarding learning experience for all of the participants. These observatories, by providing relevant, up-to-date information, are an invaluable tool for strengthening political commitment to maternal health. For representatives of the national observatories, each of which has developed independently and organically based on each country’s unique conditions, this meeting provided a valuable opportunity to compare experiences, share ideas, and build relationships. For FCI’s part, we will continue developing and supporting strategies to articulate this regional vision, one that drives action and impact, demands accountability, ensures equity, and focuses on rights.


Rendición de cuentas en Ecuador (parte 2)

Maritza Segura es la coordinadora nacional de FCI en Ecuador. La semana pasada, junto con otras colegas de FCI, Maritza apoyó la presentación del Observatorio Nacional de Derechos y Salud Sexual y Reproductiva en Quito. La reunión técnica -que tuvo un perfil regional-  fue organizada por el CONASA, y con el generoso apoyo de la Fundación MacArthur, y fue sumamente exitosa. Pueden leer el post anterior de Maritza aquí. Finalizada la reunión, Maritza escribe:

El rol del Observatorio Nacional en Ecuador será fundamental para garantizar la rendición de cuentas. Se dará seguimiento al cumplimiento de las obligaciones del país en relación a la salud y los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, teniendo especialmente en cuenta la diversidad, y las cuestiones de género, de derechos y de interculturalidad.

El encuentro en Quito fue diseñado para promover además un diálogo regional sobre la rendición de cuentas. Además de los actores clave de Ecuador, fueron invitadas al encuentro delegadas de observatorios similares de México, Guatemala, Perú, Chile y Uruguay para compartir sus retos, estrategias y lecciones aprendidas. Si bien América Latina presenta condiciones muy diversas en términos étnicos, de dinámica política y avances jurídicos, todos los observatorios comparten algunas preocupaciones. Por ejemplo, el acceso a datos es a menudo difícil y la legislación sobre transparencia es diferente en cada país. El procesamiento y la actualización de los datos, la producción de informes relevantes y la adaptación y diseminación de la información para las diferentes audiencias técnicas y políticas son procesos complejos, exigentes y costosos.  Todos los observatorios compartes dificultades para su sustentabilidad financiera ya que solamente son efectivos si cuentan con una producción consistente de información actualizada, relevante y de calidad.

La rendición de cuentas es un tema cada vez más destacado en el área de la salud, tanto a nivel global como a nivel nacional y estos tres días constituyeron una experiencia de aprendizaje muy interesante para todos los participantes. Los observatorios tienen un enorme potencial tanto por su capacidad de generar información relevante como de movilizar compromiso político hacia la salud materna. Para los representantes de los Observatorios de ALC la reunión en Quito fue una oportunidad para comparar experiencias, compartir ideas y construir alianzas. Por nuestra parte, FCI continuará promoviendo la articulación de una visión regional que fortalezca la acción y el impacto de los Observatorios, asegurando la equidad y el ejercicio de derechos.

What happened to the G8’s commitment to maternal, newborn & child health?

Amy Boldosser is Senior Program Officer, Global Advocacy, at Family Care International.

When the G8 Summit wrapped up in Deauville, France last week, many maternal, newborn and child health advocates were left saying, “What a difference a year makes.” 2010 was a year full of new commitments for improving maternal, newborn and child health. The G8 launched the Muskoka Initiative and committed US$5 billion for maternal, newborn and child health with promises to raise an additional $10 billion by 2015; the African Union hosted a Summit on Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development which resulted in new commitments including the Africa wide launch of the Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA);  and the MDG Summit included the launch of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health by the UN Secretary-General and 90+ stakeholders who together made US$40 billion in commitments to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world.

At the 2011 G8 Summit hosted by France, however, maternal, newborn and child heath was nowhere on the official agenda and warranted only one paragraph in the final 25 page declaration. In that paragraph, the G8 leaders reaffirm their commitment to “improving maternal health and reducing child mortality, most notably through the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health launched in 2010,” and assert that, “We are delivering our Muskoka commitments.” While advocates welcomed the reaffirmation of the G8 commitments on maternal, newborn and child health, questions remained about whether the G8 governments are indeed delivering on those commitments. Advocacy groups and mainstream media criticized the G8’s 2011 Deauville Accountability Report which was meant to review the progress member countries made in meeting their commitments on food security and global health. Advocates from ONE and Oxfam called the report a “whitewash,” since a review of the numbers indicated that, after accounting for inflation, the G8 was actually $19 billion away from meeting $50 billion target it claimed to have met.  The New York Times wrote in an editorial , “It is disheartening to know how low a priority the wealthy countries still put on development in the poor world. What’s more, the sleight of hand by the G-8 is unlikely to inspire much confidence in future promises.”

As noted by our colleagues at the Global Health Council in their official statement, there were a few bright spots for global health in general. The G8 did reaffirm its commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the GAVI Alliance, which works to expand access to vaccines in the poorest countries. The G8 also indicated that it will implement the recommendation of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health which is tracking pledges to the Global Strategy and the Muskoka Initiative. Dr. Carole Presern, Director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health welcomed this announcement saying, ”The G8 members are playing a key role in seizing the opportunity afforded by the Commission recommendations to ensure that commitments to women and children are honored, and the resources are used in the most effective ways to prevent deaths and save lives.”

Commenting on the outcomes of the Summit, FCI’s President Ann Starrs summed it up best. “The G8’s reaffirmation of the commitments they made last year at Muskoka is welcome, as is their support for the recommendations of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. But these statements really amount to nothing more than a promise to keep a promise. Meanwhile, women, newborns, and children in developing countries are dying every few seconds from causes that are routinely prevented or treated in the G8 countries. To make a real, lifesaving difference, the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies must move from simply making statements supporting accountability to delivering the investments they have promised in the high-impact, low-cost interventions that prevent needless maternal and child deaths.”

For more updates from global health advocates at the G8 Deauville Summit, click here

FCI helps launch Ecuador’s first Sexual and Reproductive Rights Observatory

Maritza Segura is FCI’s national coordinator in Ecuador.

FCI, along with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Center for Research, Promotion and Popular Education (CIPEP), provided technical support to Ecuador’s National Health Council (CONASA) for the launch of Ecuador’s first National Sexual and Reproductive Rights Observatory.

The meeting, titled Towards the Ecuadorian Center of Human Rights and Sexual and Reproductive Health, is taking place in Quito from May 30th to June 1st. Participants include representatives from other observatories in the region, including Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, and Uruguay, who are sharing their experiences and lessons learned.

The meeting launches and seeks to strengthen the national Observatory for monitoring and reporting on the rate of compliance with health and reproductive rights, especially in relation to ethnic groups, diversity, gender, and generational issues.

CONASA is a representative body of members of the national health system, comprised of public, private, autonomous, and community health sectors. This meeting will include the nomination, by civil society participant organizations, of a citizen’s oversight board to participate in the construction and methodological definition of the Observatory.

It is expected that, in the medium and longer term, the Observatory will help lead to the reduction of maternal mortality in Ecuador, and will thereby help the country to achieve its targets under MDG (Millennium Development Goal) 5.

FCI is grateful for the generous support from the MacArthur Foundation.


FCI apoya la conformación del primer Observatorio de Salud y Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos del Ecuador

Maritza Segura es coordinador nacional de FCI en Ecuador.

FCI, junto al Fondo de Población de las Naciones Unidas (UNFPA), la Organización Panamericana de la Salud (PAHO), y el Centro de Investigación, Promoción y Educación Popular, apoya al Consejo Nacional de Salud (CONASA) de Ecuador para conformar el primer Observatorio Nacional de Salud y Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos.

Del 30 de mayo al 1ro de junio de 2011 se lleva a cabo en Quito la reunión “Hacia el Observatorio Ecuatoriano de Derechos y Salud Sexual y Reproductiva”, con la participación de representantes de otros observatorios exitosos de la región con el fin de compartir experiencias y lecciones aprendidas, entre ellos de los observatorios de México, Guatemala, Chile y Uruguay.

El encuentro tiene el objetivo de fortalecer la propuesta nacional de un Observatorio para la vigilancia e información sobre él índice de cumplimiento de la salud y los derechos sexuales y reproductivos, especialmente en grupos étnicos, diversidades, por género y generación.

En este marco, el CONASA, como organismo de representación de los integrantes del Sistema Nacional de Salud, conformado por entidades públicas, privadas, autónomas y comunitarias del sector salud, ha previsto que el evento incluya la nominación, por parte de las instituciones y organizaciones de la sociedad civil participantes, de un consejo ciudadano de veeduría que participarán en la construcción y definición metodológica del Observatorio.

Se espera que, a mediano y largo plazo, el accionar del Observatorio ayude al Ecuador a reducir la razón de mortalidad materna y, así, a lograr las metas del ODM 5.

FCI agradece el generoso apoyo de la Fundación MacArthur.



WHO approves misoprostol to prevent hemorrhage

Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer in FCI’s Global Advocacy program.

Last week, the WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines approved the inclusion of misoprostol for the prevention of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) on the WHO List of Essential Medicines.  PPH,or severe bleeding following childbirth, is one of the major causes of maternal death and disability in developing countries. The Expert Committee noted that “600 micrograms [misoprostol] given orally is effective and safe for the prevention of PPH” in settings where oxytocin, currently the standard of care to prevent PPH, is not available or feasible. Moreover, the committee moved misoprostol from the complementary to the core list of essential medicines, validating the drug’s important role in women’s health.

Structure of the misoprostol molecule/www.3dchem.com
Structure of the misoprostol molecule

Misoprostol, a prostaglandin, offers several potential advantages over oxytocin for managing PPH in resource-constrained settings. It is widely available in developing countries, is relatively inexpensive, can be transported and stored without refrigeration, and can be administered without an injection.

The addition of misoprostol to the WHO List of Essential Medicines is an important step forward in making the drug more widely available for PPH, and provides a critical opportunity for disseminating clear, evidence-based information to ministries of health, regulatory authorities, health system managers, health workers, and other audiences.

Strong, effective, and consistent advocacy at the global, regional, and country levels is critical for improving women’s access to misoprostol for both prevention and treatment of PPH. FCI is working with Gynuity Health Projects and other partners to develop an evidence-based advocacy agenda and communications plan to harmonize and disseminate messages on the use of misoprostol for preventing and managing PPH.

  • For more information on FCI’s work on misoprostol for PPH, click here.

FCI co-sponsoring NYC event on indigenous women

FCI, together with partners UNFPA, the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, the International Indigenous Women’s Forum—FIMI, and Spanish International Development Cooperation Agency—AECID, are organizing a side event as part of the 10th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The side event — Indigenous Women, Health & Rights: Strengthening indigenous women to realize their right to reproductive health — will feature presentations by indigenous women leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. Speakers will discuss ways in which the “Indigenous Women, Health & Rights ” initiative, launched by UNFPA and AECID in 2008, has strengthened the capacity of indigenous women’s organizations to advocate for safe motherhood, and will discuss advances, challenges, and plans for the future. The event will be held on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, at the Beekman Tower Hotel, NYC, from 1 to 3PM. English/Spanish translation will be available.

FCI está co-organizando con UNFPA, el Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas, el Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas—FIMI y la Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo—AECID, un evento paralelo en el marco de la 10 ª Sesión del Foro Permanente para las Cuestiones Indígenas de las Naciones Unidas. El evento, titulado “Mujer Indígena, Salud y   Derechos: Fortaleciendo a las mujeres indígenas para la realización de su derecho a la salud reproductiva” contará con presentaciones a cargo de mujeres líderes indígenas de Ecuador, Bolivia y Perú. Las lideresas hablarán sobre lo que ha significado para ellas y sus organizaciones la iniciativa “Mujer Indígena, Salud y Derechos“, lanzada por el UNFPA y la AECID en 2008. La iniciativa se ha centrado en el fortalecimiento de las organizaciones indígenas para abogar por sus derechos reproductivos, en especial la salud materna. El evento tendrá lugar el martes, 17 de mayo 2011, en el Beekman Tower Hotel, Beekman Ballroon, Nueva York, de 13 a 15 horas. Se facilitará interpretación simultánea: español/inglés.

Meeting with Maternal Health Champions

Martha Murdock is Vice President, Regional Programs at Family Care International.

About a year ago, the global change organization Ashoka partnered with the Maternal Health Task Force to launch a program called the Ashoka Young Champions for Maternal Health. Fourteen young social entrepreneurs, from 12 countries around the world, were selected through a rigorous online competition to be the first of “a new generation of global leaders dedicated to improving maternal health.” The Young Champions have spent the past nine months as interns gaining hands-on knowledge about maternal health and change-making, mentored by Ashoka Fellows in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Last week, I had the good fortune to spend some time with the Young Champions, at their end-of-program conference (the “Young Champions Future Forum”) in Accra, Ghana. I heard about the incredible range of innovative social ventures that they had the opportunity to develop  — from a program that reintegrates obstetric fistula survivors using community-based credit schemes, to a project that develops links between traditional birth attendants and skilled obstetric care providers in rural areas where use of institutional delivery care is low. Over three days of fellowship and robust debate, these young innovators discussed how to ensure community ownership of social change initiatives in isolated rural areas, the most effective strategies for conducting advocacy and outreach using social media, and the challenges faced by new professionals as they enter the maternal health field. As someone who’s been doing this work for more than two decades, I found the experience — the energy and commitment of my young colleagues, and the originality and quality of their thinking — to be frankly inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of these Young Champions, whose work I expect will make real impact in our field.

After the Ghana conference, I moved onto Ouagadougou, where I spent four days meeting with the team at FCI-Burkina Faso. They are doing exciting work, and I’ll report on developments there in a follow-up post.

  • Read blogs by the Ashoka Young Champions for Maternal Health