NEW YORK, July 22—The Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth announced today that it has awarded eight new grants supporting innovative maternal health projects across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The projects, which will be carried out by local organizations in developing countries, will lead to national policy recommendations for improving maternal health.
Each project will evaluate an ongoing effort to advance maternal health in places where too many women still die from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Examples of such projects include integrating maternal health care with HIV prevention and treatment, organizing support groups for pregnant mothers, and outfitting health workers in rural communities with cellular phones to facilitate emergency care for pregnant women. Following are summaries of the new grants:
In Bangladesh, scientists and nonscientists will collaborate at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) in translating new and existing knowledge about maternal health into proposals to improve government policies and practices. They will seek consensus on identifying key questions raised by three recent research programs, ensure access to the findings, reach out to national policymakers, and build ICDDR,B capacity and visibility for future work in knowledge translation.
In India, the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) will combat India’s high maternal mortality and morbidity rates by demonstrating the value of integrating maternal health programs into HIV and AIDS programs. Using forums, workshops, and consultations, CEDPA will evaluate existing programs of the government’s National Rural Health Mission, the National AIDS Control Programme, and the National Health Policy Administration in the Rajasthan area, to compile best practices and build consensus on a set of recommendations for policymakers.
In Malawi, the MaiMwana project will be a pilot effort to strengthen the current inadequate Maternal Death Review (MDR) system with a village-level program of maternal death audits. Kamuzu Central Hospital and the Mchinji District Hospital will support the formation of three-member MDR teams in each village to conduct a verbal autopsy (a structured interview) among relatives and neighbors within two days of every maternal death. Improved data will allow better analysis and service improvements and will contribute to recommendations to the Ministry of Health for a national audit procedure.
In Mexico, the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social (CIESAS) is conducting an assessment of the Ministry of Health’s Advanced Life Support for Obstetrics Program (ALSO), which manages delivery emergencies in Oaxaca. CIESAS will determine whether ALSO courses improve the technical skills and professional morale of health care providers enough to justify expanding the program nationwide.
In Peru, Future Generations, in partnership with the Peruvian Ministry of Health, will field test promising methods of reducing maternal and newborn mortality by organizing groups of pregnant women to share their pregnancy histories and experiences. In a controlled trial involving 500 pregnant women, health workers will guide the discussions, document benefits, develop a training manual and materials for possible nationwide use, hold workshops on the materials, and advocate for policy change.
In South Africa and Kenya, the mothers2mothers program, which offers education and emotional support to pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV, will field test “active client follow-up” to increase the number of HIV-positive pregnant women who return to a health care facility for care after an initial visit. In much of Africa, the return rate is low, posing a major obstacle to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Mothers2mothers will use peer “mentor mothers” to send text messages or cell phone calls to previously contacted pregnant women to urge them to make return visits. Best practices will be collected for integration into the mothers2mothers standard model used continent-wide.
In Sri Lanka, the Department of Community Medicine at Rajarata University will work to improve the collection of data on the impact of maternal death and postpartum illness, a process that is now limited to hospital reports. University researchers will develop a survey questionnaire for field testing among a sample of expectant mothers in the resource-poor Anuradhapura District, where maternal mortality rates are high. Researchers will analyze the frequency and prevalence of health events and their direct and indirect economic impacts on families, to contribute to national service delivery planning.
In Tanzania, the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) will seek to improve emergency care for pregnant women and newborns by providing free cellular phones and business-related services for mid-level health care providers, to allow better communication with distant emergency obstetric specialists. Cooperating with district councils and a local telecommunications company IHI will evaluate the cost, feasibility, and implementation issues that arise if health workers at the district level have better access to long-distance counseling, faster referrals and resupply services, and emergency clinical support.
EngenderHealth is a leading international reproductive health organization working to improve the quality of health care in the world’s poorest communities. EngenderHealth empowers people to make informed choices about contraception, trains health care providers to make motherhood safer, promotes gender equity, enhances the quality of HIV and AIDS services, and advocates for positive policy change. The nonprofit organization works in partnership with governments, institutions, communities, and health care professionals in more than 20 countries around the world. For more information, visit www.engenderhealth.org.
The Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth brings together existing maternal health initiatives and engages new organizations to facilitate global coordination of maternal health evidence, programs, and policies. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Maternal Health Task Force convenes stakeholders and creates an inclusive setting to engage in dialogue, build consensus, foster innovation, and share information. For more information, visit www.maternalhealthtaskforce.org.
Tim Thomas, Maternal Health Task Force/EngenderHealth