Improving Health Systems through a Maternal Health Framework: Meeting Overview

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By: Emily Puckart, Program Associate, MHTF

After the meeting in Nairobi in July on maternal health challenges in Kenya, I was looking forward to hearing more productive, and sometimes provocative, discussions during the most recent Nairobi policy dialogue on Improving Health Systems through a Maternal Health Framework. During this two day event on October 17-18, 2011 organized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center and the African Population and Health Research Center, attendees from various areas of practice and maternal health focus in Kenya convened in Nairobi.

The focus on the first day was a brief overview of health systems challenges that specifically relate to maternal health. After the overview, the day was structured to maximize the discussion opportunity for the attendees, and give them time to draft a list of action points to share virtually with a Washington DC audience later on the first day of the meeting, as well as with members of Kenyan parliament who attended on the second day. The group discussions were quite intensive and animated- it was difficult to get participants to break for lunch!

The first breakout group discussed the diagonal approach to health systems thinking and how to define priorities in maternal health. This group focused on using maternal health indicators to improve broader health indicators. Numbers in Kenya show that most women attend at least one antenatal care visit, so group members theorized that linking ANC visits to other health activities could improve uptake of actions such as child immunizations and HIV/AIDS testing.

The second breakout group focused on knowledge gaps and research that is needed in maternal health. They highlighted their desire to use mobile and electronic technology for capturing maternal data in the field that is currently difficult to collect and disseminate. Challenging the question of research, most of the group concurred that the focus in the maternal health community in Kenya should not be on conducting more research, but rather using current research more effectively and efficiently, and actually implementing programs and activities based on research findings.

The final group focused on how to engage policymakers and funders. They focused primarily on the need to hold politicians accountable to commitments the make towards maternal health. For example, participants wanted to push policy makers on Kenya’s commitment to have 15% of the budget go towards health programming. Despite this promise funding remains at 5.5% They also urged maternal health groups to develop an advocacy package for maternal with evidence based strategies that have been used in the HIV/AIDS advocacy movement with success.

All three groups presented their action points to a Washington DC audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center that was live streamed to Nairobi. There was a great discussion between both groups. Using live streaming to link up the two countries truly demonstrates how technology can link maternal health practitioners across the ocean and can benefit both groups simultaneously. The participants in Nairobi were able to present their action points to potential partners in Washington DC and then receive immediate feedback on those points. In turn, Washington DC participants were able to directly interact with the Nairobi participants, asking clarifying questions on Kenyan maternal health practices and policy, and hearing directly from practitioners in the field.

Over the next several blog posts on this series I hope to capture and convey some the excitement, strong opinions, and action points on maternal health that came up over this two meeting – stay tuned!