YES but How…

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By: Zubaida Bai, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Zubaida Bai, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

The day I returned from India, I was greeted by emails from a few of my contacts requesting JANMA – Birth Kit samples for Haiti, Tanzania and Ghana. Since I was too tired, I decided I would pack and send them the next evening. In the morning, in one of the meetings at Health Leads (the new name for Project HEALTH), we were talking about how many patients with critical needs were not being identified either by the provider or by Health Leads, resulting in them reaching a crisis situation. The question arose: how can patients and needs be identified in the first few visits so an expecting mother and family can have an easier time, and the silent, manageable issues don’t affect her health during pregnancy?

It was decided that a volunteer and I will study all of the cases for the last three years and identify where the gap was and what Health Leads can do to with its partners to decrease this incidence. On my way back home, as I was going through the events of the day, I felt overwhelmed as I thought of the impact of the work being done by the Health Leads regional and national offices. It made me realize how crucial my work was going to be as it would help them measure and see the outcome of their impact. Later that evening at home as I unpacked feeling overjoyed that the AYZH birth kits were going to so many countries as samples, it suddenly struck me how was AYZH going to measure impact of its own offerings.

In the bed at night, I thought of the impact I was going to make in the field of maternal health, what impact the other 15 Ashoka Young Champions were going to make, and what the impact of Ashoka as an organization was making by supporting us and our passions. Is there a way we could measure this impact? Wouldn’t it be SUPERCOOL to be able to put some numbers around this?

As we approach the end of fourth month of the fellowship, I thought I should write a blog for the Young Champions to start thinking of the IMPACT: what, when and how should we as YCs be measuring to help Ashoka feel proud for having given us this opportunity? It is my firm belief that if you cannot measure your work, you cannot add value to what you do.

Given the fact that the maternal health is a subject very difficult to measure, I started looking for the simplest definition in the field around what I found was a definition of maternal mortality by WHO in 1992 where it says “maternal mortality has typically been defined as including direct obstetric and indirect obstetric causes but not incidental deaths.” This definition by default negates all the silent factors around maternal mortality and health. As rightly pointed about Hellen Kotolo in her blog this month, it is difficult to see that HIV is not even considered an important issue in maternal health in developing countries. Given the fact that in this modern world where women’s rights are given high importance it’s a sad fact that safe motherhood remains the least prioritized topic in many developing countries.

From my field work of over 5 years in the social sector, I have time and again observed that many silent issues go unaccounted for due to the lack of the ability to express them or, in terms of the topic of this blog, to measure them. Even though good intentions can go a long way, it is very important for professionals in the field of social good to make themselves, heard, seen and believed.

So let’s do it… Measure our impact and bring to life the silent issues of maternal health.