What Women’s Health Initiatives in India Can Teach Us All

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By: Gary Darmstadt and Wendy Prosser, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

This post was originally posted on Impatient Optimists.

With almost 200 million people living in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, a state more populous than the entire country of Brazil, the sheer breadth of exciting, new ways to improve maternal and child health is enormous. With all of those people and increased investments in health research and service delivery along with a growing economy, imagine how much information and knowledge can be shared when it comes to finding solutions for some of the most challenging women’s and children’s health issues. But also imagine how complicated it must be to find the right people with the right information to learn from to scale up these programs.

I had the chance to talk to our partners at the Urban Health Initiative (UHI) in Uttar Pradesh last week. The Urban Health Initiative works to improve the health of the urban poor—particularly in enabling women to plan their families and access the contraceptives that they want—in this densely populated area. I asked their opinions about what we’re doing that works, what doesn’t work, what we should change—and what we are not doing that they would like us to do.

They encouraged us to do more in the area of knowledge sharing, because they see the tremendous benefits of learning from other organizations, partners, the private sector, and global thought leaders. They see the synergies that can exist even between sectors, like family planning and HIV, and want to exploit those in the most beneficial ways.

For example, foundation partners who work in the contraceptives arena know that, in Uttar Pradesh, 21 percent of women want to use some form of birth control but they don’t. Knowledge is understanding why those women don’t use birth control—for example, because the health center closest to her house has been out of stock of her preferred method for a couple of months, or because she is too embarrassed to get condoms from her neighborhood store—and then to act on that information to create lasting solutions.

This conversation I had in Uttar Pradesh reminded me of the thoughts that were shared at the Achieving Lasting Impact at Scale convening at the end of last year. That convening brought practitioners, researchers, and global experts together to start the conversation on diffusion and dissemination, and of scaling up successful interventions for impact in maternal and child health—not just documentation of inputs or things done, but real impact in improving the health of women and children.

The ideas from our partners at UHI are the catalyst to change the way we think and talk about the ways in which we provide women’s and children’s health care in developing countries. They specifically suggested the breakdown of “silos,” or separation between organizations and sectors working in different health arenas, by creating platforms to share learning and knowledge.

We’re talking about much more than sharing information, data, trip summaries, or progress reports from activity implementation.

Our partners in Uttar Pradesh are asking for inventive ways to share knowledge to scale successful interventions which have a positive, lasting impact on women’s and children’s health. And we’re working to address this need, given the tremendous potential to increase our collective ability for impact when it comes to maternal, newborn, and child health in India—and to disseminate this learning from India for benefit throughout the world.