Supporting the Human in Human Resources: Reimagining the Dialogue on Human Resources for Maternal and Newborn Health

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By: Aime Newman, Director of Communications and Development, Jacaranda Health; Kate Mitchell, Manager of the MHTF Knowledge Management System, Women and Health Initiative; Katie Millar, Technical Writer, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Rachel Hassinger, Online Communications Specialist, Management Sciences for Health; Shalmali Radha Karnad, Clinical Programs Manager, Jacaranda Health

This post is the first in our new blog series focused on recognizing and supporting the ‘human’ in human resources for maternal and newborn health: Who are the humans that make up the global maternal health work force? What are their challenges and dreams? How can we better support them to provide high quality maternal health care to the women and newborns who need it most? Check back here every Tuesday and Thursday now through August 7th, 2014 for answers to these questions.

While recent estimates show that maternal mortality ratios are falling globally, many parts of the world still face significant challenges in improving maternal and newborn health, and in reducing the number of deaths from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Striking disparities in access to, and quality of, maternal health services exist within and between regions and countries. These persistent challenges and disparities are the reasons why the WHA recently endorsed the Every Newborn Action Plan coupled with Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality.

Undoubtedly, health workers are central to any approach to improving access to, and quality of, maternal and newborn health services and, ultimately, maternal and newborn health. In fact, the new Lancet Series, Midwifery, identifies midwives as the key link to ending preventable maternal and neonatal mortality. It is for this reason that the Maternal Health Task Force and Jacaranda Health are teaming up on a blog series, titled “Supporting the Human in Human Resources.” Through a series of posts, welcomed from a variety of contributors, we hope to reimagine the human resources conversation and to facilitate a global dialogue about inventive efforts to support and nurture the global maternal health work force—with special attention to human resource approaches for addressing inequities in maternal and newborn health.

Global discussions of human resources for health often center on boosting the numbers of health workers in a given setting, using health care provider-to-population ratios as a key indicator. While ratios are important, of equal (if not greater) importance and impact are the quality, sustainability, respect, and care of the workforce. Human resources for health are made up of individuals with personal and professional needs, challenges, dreams and aspirations. In recent years, it has been encouraging to see that a number of health care organizations around the world have developed programs to address human resource challenges in new and creative ways—developing exciting and promising approaches to recognize and support the human in human resources.

These organizations are nurturing health professionals to become “game changers”—or influencers of sustainable, positive change—in healthcare delivery by offering opportunities for professional development, as well as leadership and management training. In addition, they are recognizing and addressing the real-life challenges of health workers living and working in resource-constrained and/or remote environments. These efforts share the long-term goal of supporting a healthier, happier health work force that is equipped to provide higher quality, respectful and client-centered care, hopefully resulting in improvements in the health of women and newborns around the world.

Our goal for this blog series is to create a platform for sharing innovative interventions, lessons-learned and opportunities for collaboration across various organizations and communities. How can we best support and nurture strong human resources for maternal health in order to contribute to saving the lives of women and newborns? It is questions like this (and others below) that we hope you’ll help us answer through this blog series!

Questions and topics for potential guest posts:

  1. Looking beyond maternal and newborn health: What cross-cutting human resource lessons can be drawn from other specialties and applied to supporting the global maternal health workforce?
  2. Connecting health worker job satisfaction and respectful maternity care: Do happier health workers provide higher quality, more client-centered, respectful maternity care? Where and how has this been documented?
  3. Measurement and evidence: How can we measure the health impact of better supporting health care providers? Is this evidence necessary to advocate for such programs and policies?
  4. Career development: How can creating a clear career development pathway and progression for nurses, and other health workers, contribute to improvements in the quality of maternal health care?
  5. Leadership and management training: Lessons from a recent project that offers leadership or management training for nurses or midwives?
  6. Incentives and retention: What kinds of financial and non-financial incentives can be used to increase retention and performance of maternal health care providers?
  7. Game-changers for maternal health: Description of a leadership training program that has focused on creating “game-changers” for maternal health. How can these efforts be amplified in low-resource settings? What is the role of training/academic institutions in preparing the next generation of providers?
  8. Location, location, location: What are the diverse needs and challenges of midwives working in difficult contexts? How can governments and organizations be more strategic about meeting their needs? Why logistics, such as housing for midwives, matter!
  9. Advocacy and accountability: How can the needs of health workers be addressed at a policy level? How might professional bodies be engaged to promote improved working environments and mechanisms for accountability?
  10. Getting to know the global maternal health workforce: A personal account of, or interview with, a maternal health care provider—focused on needs, challenges, dreams, and/or programs that are (or are not) working for them and meeting their needs.

You may also feel free to suggest your own topic to our editors.

General guidelines for guest blog posts:

  • Please include the author name, title, and photo
  • Goal: Guest posts should raise questions, discuss lessons learned, analyze programs, describe research, offer recommendations, share resources, or offer critical insight.
  • Audience: The audience for this series is health and development professionals working in maternal and newborn health around the world, primarily in resource-constrained settings
  • Tone: Conversational. Doesn’t need to meet professional publication standards
  • Feel free to choose your own style or approach. Q/A as well as lists (eg. top ten lessons) can often be effective ways of organizing blog posts.
  • Length: 400-600 words
  • No institutional promotion
  • Please include links to sources such as websites and/or publications
  • May also include photos and videos, please include a caption and a credit for the photo

To contribute a post to this series, please contact Kate Mitchell at and Katie Millar at

Submissions to this series will be reviewed and accepted on a rolling basis, but preference will be given to posts received by July 18th, 2014.

Posts in this series will be shared on the MHTF blog and the Jacaranda Health blog —and may be cross-posted on other leading global health and development blogs.