On August 30 at 8:00am, the air was already hot and sticky as Ashoka’s Young Champions and Changemakers boarded an air-conditioned bus. After careening across Delhi’s bumpy streets, the young social entrepreneurs stepped into the bright light of downtown Delhi for their first day at the Global Maternal Health Conference (GMHC).
In the morning they attended the Conference’s inaugural ceremonies. After lunch they absorbed new facts, figures and findings at special conference sessions. Later that evening, I caught up with two Young Champions and a Changemaker to ask a question:
What was your most important takeaway from today’s GMHC sessions? How will it impact your work?
“At the first presentation today, I was struck by the obstetric epidemiologist from Aberdeen (Wendy J. Graham from Immpact at the Univeristy of Aberdeen). She kept mentioning context of research. And it struck me that when we look at studies to influence what we do, we should always try to find out about the culture of the people there. And the other things was her idea of ‘failing forward’: learning to maximize our failures—to make them into successes and leverage them for future successes.”
“In the afternoon, I attended a session on the social and economic impacts on maternal health. There was a young man who spoke about a qualitative study done in Nepal. Because of what I heard in the morning, I was a lot more open to qualitative research. Sometimes people think it’s not as scientific as quantitative data collection. He spoke about the cultural things that stopped women from accessing healthcare. He kind of sparked a thought in my heart—that culture is an integral part of people’s lives.”
“I think the aim of our Young Champion projects should be to eliminate the harmful practices of culture. But maybe we will get women to access healthcare better if we can incorporate some good parts of culture. From my cultural context, many people use traditional birth attendants because they want the love, the prayers and the social support. So maybe if we could somehow incorporate those spiritual rituals into hospital birthing and institutional deliveries, women would be more open to using them—as against just insisting that they come to the hospital.”
“The partner I work with in Uganda uses these birth kits. She goes around to different women in the villages and shows them a little backpack filled with things that will make a pregnancy safer. Really basic stuff. Like soap to wash your hands. A razor to cut the cord—a sterile razor. A clean blanket.”
“Originally I thought, it was a great idea. But it turns out it’s a pretty controversial idea. A lot of people worry that if you give a woman this kit of clean stuff, it’s going to tell her it’s okay to give birth at home. And that’s not what the institutional players want. They want the women having their babies in hospitals. Which I think is ideal—but in a lot of cases not realistic.”
“Since the Women Deliver Conference, I’ve been thinking I need to better understand this discussion. So today I went to a session on birth kits. It was structured almost like a debate. Like, Here are some of the facts: What do you think?”
“And it became very clear to me what I want to do. With these birth kits, there are all these possibilities, right? It doesn’t have to be a facility birth. If you manage it properly, not only can it make a woman want to go to the hospital, it can help the hospital more effectively treat her. It’s a packaged set of commodities—and the facility may be short of commodities.”At the hospital, they know, if they’ve been trained, how to receive this woman: The woman comes with a little package, they can immediately take every thing out, do the job quicker, more effectively, make sure everything’s there.”“Today the debate made it very clear in my mind that I’m going to do this as a fundamental part of my program. The specifics of how—I’m not quite sure about yet. But my mind was boiling with possibilities: You could sell these things. You could sell vouchers for additional care. You could give them vouchers for local transport—negotiate with taxis. It’s a physical good, a package that’s not only sellable to the woman in Africa—or donate-able—but it’s also saleable to the donating public. Because it’s tangible. And it’s low cost—probably less than $10 or $15.”
Dr. Minal Singh
“I liked meeting people from the same field, with a similar cause. The best part was I’m coming away with the feeling that I’m not alone—I’m not facing different values in the field of maternal health. The values are shared by people all over the world. So it gives me lots of inspiration to work with new energy when I get back.”
“There are so many synergies. Though we had little time to connect with all the partners, I’m sure we have their contact details and their organization names. Thanks to the World Wide Web, we’ll be able to connect again. I can see much potential—people from whom I can learn and partner.”
“In the afternoon I attended a session on the social and economic and cultural implications of maternal health. It was a very nice talk. And this is actually the problem we are facing—the gap in India between the rural and the urban and also the economic gap. So I hope this will help me implement better.”
Lorraine Thompson is the winner of the Ashoka’s Maternal Health Blogging Contest and is live blogging for the Change Summit and the Global Maternal health Conference.
Stay up to date with the conference happenings! Follow the Maternal Health Task Force and EngenderHealth on Twitter: @MHTF and @EngenderHealth. The conference hashtag is #GMHC2010.
For more posts about the Global Maternal Health Conference, click here.
For the live stream schedule, click here.
Check back soon for the archived videos of the conference presentations.