President Joyce Banda has made improving maternal health a centerpiece of her Presidency since taking office last spring, and her first “State of the Nation” address is no exception. The speech, which was published earlier today by the Nyaza Times, highlights progress toward the Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood. The Initiative focuses on three areas: community mobilization, construction of maternity waiting homes, and training of community midwives. In her address, President Banda highlighted some of the details of progress toward building maternity waiting homes in her speech. This alone might be noteworthy – after all, how often do heads of state discuss the details of a maternal health program in a major national speech?
But, in a bit of serendipity, The New York Times featured a blog post just yesterday highlighting another piece of the Initiative: efforts to engage powerful chiefs to lead many of the community mobilization components of the Initiative. The Times piece highlights some encouraging signs that this effort, which aims to engage a broad spectrum of community members in efforts to encourage women to seek antenatal care and skilled care at delivery will be successful – unlike previous national policies, which were enacted without this sort of attention to community engagement.
The Times is not alone in singling out President Banda for her attention to addressing Malawi’s dire maternal health situation. In fact, just last week, her commitment was also highlighted in a recent Comment on progress toward the MDGs in The Lancet by President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Jens Stoltenburg, Prime Minister of Norway. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Smart Global Health website also published this interview with President Banda in January, where she articulated a vision of bold, ambitious change, driven by efforts to keep girls in school longer, ensure access to family planning and improve maternal health. Hopefully, these efforts – and the urgency President Banda brings to them – will not only continue to draw this sort of attention, but will have a real impact on women’s lives in Malawi.