Global Leaders in Maternal and Newborn Health: Dr. Emmanuel Ugwa (Nigeria)

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By: Sarah Hodin, Project Coordinator II, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

In July 2016, 35 global leaders in maternal newborn health gathered for the second annual Safe Mothers and Newborns Leadership Workshop (SMNLW) hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF), the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and The Aga Kahn University, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The participants represented 26 countries from five continents.

Emmanuel Ugwa

SMNLW participant Dr. Emmanuel Ugwa is from Nigeria where he has served as a Consultant Obstetrician/Gynecologist at several hospitals. He is a principal investigator on USAID and Gates-funded research projects in Nigeria. Additionally, Dr. Ugwa sits on review committees and editorial boards for multiple scientific journals and has published numerous research articles himself.

S: Tell me about yourself and the work that you do.

E: I am an OB/GYN clinical specialist from Nigeria. I currently work with Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, where we’re implementing The Maternal and Child Survival Program in Nigeria. The program’s aim is to use high impact, low-cost interventions to end preventable causes of maternal and newborn deaths. As an operations research adviser, I work with the rest of the team to test new innovations to end maternal and newborn death in Nigeria’s multicultural context.

S: What is the biggest challenge in maternal and newborn health in your country?

E: There are a lot of challenges. I think the first is getting the right figures about how many women and newborns are dying, especially in the rural areas where there is no well-organized system for documentation and reporting. Whatever figures we have are assumed to be a national average. Sometimes we have to do something extra to disaggregate this to reflect the various regions – whether rural, peri-urban, or urban. There should be equity in data collection and reporting. We need to get the figures right: how many women are dying and what are they dying from? And we also need to identify appropriate interventions that are culturally acceptable and feasible to address maternal and newborn deaths.

S: What is being done to address that challenge?

E: Part of the work that we do at Jhpiego is to strengthen the health information system. We organize trainings on record keeping and accurate data collection involving the officers at various health facility levels. We hope this will build their capacity for capturing and recording the right data correctly. We also build their capacity on how to use that data for decision-making.

S: What kind of leader do you aspire to be?

E: Partnerships are key to achieving health objectives. If you know other people working in the area where you work, you share experiences and lessons learned – and also health metrics. People tell me, “our maternal mortality is as low as 70 per 100,000 live births”, and I think back home ours is as high as 576 per 100,000 live births. So I want to know where they started from and what they did to bring these figures down. How did they engage their government and what advocacy strategies did they use? What stakeholders did they get involved? I think learning from these kind of experiences would really help me as a leader to see how I can apply them in my context.

S: What would you like MHTF readers to know?

E: A lot is going on in Nigeria in maternal, newborn and child health. We are testing new approaches to training and capacity building. In the past we’ve been taking health workers out of their facilities, bringing them to another location, training them, and sending them back to their facilities. That seems to not have worked, so we are testing other methods at Jhpiego. We’re taking the trainings to the facilities. We’re training as many people as possible without taking them out of the workplace, and we’re getting them to practice competencies using anatomical models. We give them mentorship to see if this capacity building approach will translate into better performance – whether they’ll be able to handle obstetric emergencies, and in the long run, whether we will see better outcomes such as reduction in maternal and newborn mortality.

I also think people need to know that leadership capacity in maternal and newborn health has to be built and developed because that’s the key! We need leaders who will become champions who will train, motivate and mentor others at the government, policy and program implementation levels – also at the local levels. We need leaders in these areas, not just in Nigeria but in all of sub-Saharan Africa, who will work together to improve health outcomes.

Read this blog post in Spanish on the ISGlobal website.

As Emmanuel said, having accurate data is necessary for improving maternal and newborn health outcomes. Click here for reliable data resources.

Are you an aspiring leader in the global maternal health field? Please contact us – we would love to hear from you!

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