2016 was an exciting year for the global maternal health community. In reflecting back on this past year, the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) compiled a list of our top 10 highlights:
#10: Advocating for stillbirths
In 2016, researchers, providers and advocates emphasized the importance of addressing stillbirths, a topic that often has been neglected. There are an estimated 2.6 million stillbirths every year, most of which are preventable with high quality care. However, that figure is likely an underestimate given that many countries with poor data collection systems do not count stillbirths. The majority of babies who are stillborn do not receive birth or death certificates, and often the causes of stillbirths are not recorded or investigated. In order to address this issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) published “Making Every Baby Count: Audit and Review of Stillbirths and Neonatal Deaths,” emphasizing the importance of counting stillbirths.
In 2016, The Lancet published a series of papers addressing stillbirths, offering strategies for ending preventable stillbirths by 2030.
#9: Women Deliver 2016
The fourth annual Women Deliver Conference took place in May in Copenhagen, Denmark. This year’s conference was the largest gathering on girls’ and women’s health and rights in the last decade, with more than 5,700 participants from more than 160 countries in attendance. The focus was on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to best address the needs of girls and women around the world, particularly related to maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and economic empowerment.
The MHTF was thrilled to participate in the Women Deliver Conference. In addition to supporting several concurrent sessions and an exhibit booth, MHTF Director Ana Langer spoke at a speaker’s corner event titled, “#MomandBaby in the SDG Era: 10 Actions We Can Take.”
#8: MHTF-PLOS Collections
The MHTF continued its partnership with the Public Library of Science (PLOS) with the shared goal of expanding global access to high quality evidence on key maternal health topics. The MHTF marked the official launch of the Year 4 Collection, “Neglected Populations: Decreasing Inequalities and Improving Measurement in Maternal Health,” by hosting a panel discussion at the Harvard Chan School’s Leadership Studio with Christna Chap, a senior editor from PLOS, and several authors who contributed to the collection.
The call for papers for the Year 5 MHTF-PLOS Collection, “Non-Communicable Diseases and Maternal Health Around the Globe” was also announced. PLOS is currently accepting submissions until February 1, 2017.
#7: Obstetric Emergency Drills Training Kit
In partnership with Argentina’s Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy, the MHTF released the Obstetric Emergency Drills Training Kit with the goal of helping providers prepare for and effectively manage obstetric emergencies such as pre-eclampsia/eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage. The training kit, intended for use within comprehensive training and quality improvement efforts, is available in both English and Spanish.
#6: Focus on maternal health in humanitarian settings
In 2016, the world experienced a deluge of humanitarian crises: From the devastating Zika epidemic to the conflict in Syria, the global maternal health community has been called upon to respond strongly and swiftly to address maternal health needs in dangerous settings.
The MHTF co-hosted a discussion at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. titled, “Closing the Gaps of Maternal Health in Conflict and Crises” as a part of the Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series.
In addition to action, the global community needs more accurate data on maternal health in humanitarian settings to better understand the size and scope of the challenge.
#5: New antenatal care guidelines from WHO
In November, WHO released new antenatal care (ANC) guidelines. The guidelines provide 49 recommendations in five categories: nutritional interventions, maternal/fetal assessments, preventive measures, interventions for common physiological symptoms and health system interventions. The new guidelines also recommend eight ANC contacts during pregnancy as opposed to four, marking an important shift with health systems implications.
#4: Momentum for maternal newborn health
In 2016, as a follow-up to the 2015 Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference (GMNHC) held in Mexico City, the MHTF released an infographic outlining 10 critical actions necessary to create momentum for maternal newborn health. These actions were compiled by diverse stakeholders who participated in GMNHC, including researchers, policymakers, funders and program implementers from around the world.
MHTF Director Ana Langer, along with Koki Agarwal of USAID’s Maternal Child Survival Program/Jhpiego and Joy Riggs-Perla of Saving Newborn Lives, wrote a commentary titled “The Global Development Framework in Transition: Where are Mothers and Newborns in the Post-2015 Era?” highlighting these ten priority actions.
#3: Improving data measurement for accountability
Monitoring progress is an essential element of ensuring accountability. The global maternal health community undertook several efforts to improve the quality of data collection, management and dissemination in 2016.
In her keynote speech at the Women Deliver Conference, Melinda Gates emphasized the need to collect better data: “We need to know where and when women are born. How many hours they work every day. Whether they get paid. Whether they experience violence. How, when and why they die…We don’t have all the data we need to act.”
The Global Burden of Disease Study released new data from 2015, revealing the leading causes of death and disability around the world. A study titled, “Global, regional, and national levels of maternal mortality, 1990–2015: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015” was published in The Lancet.
The Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM) working group led the development of a comprehensive monitoring framework for measuring progress toward improved maternal health and survival, in support of the SDGs and the Every Woman, Every Child agenda.
#2: New guidelines for quality of care from WHO
In August 2016, WHO published Standards for Improving Quality of Maternal and Newborn Care in Health Facilities. The framework includes eight standards of high quality care and a comprehensive list of measures to identify quality gaps throughout the continuum of care for women and newborns. The guidelines provide clinicians and public health professionals with a guided path toward accurately identifying gaps in quality of maternal and newborn care and improving women’s experiences in facilities around the world.
#1: The Lancet Series on Maternal Health
In September 2016, the MHTF supported the launch of The Lancet Maternal Health Series, a collection of six papers highlighting the importance of improving access to high quality maternal health care for all women across the globe. The papers call for increased efforts to prioritize quality maternal health services, promote equity through universal coverage, strengthen health systems, guarantee sustainable financing and accelerate progress through evidence, advocacy and accountability.
Following the series launch, the MHTF co-hosted an event at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. titled “What Next? Putting The Lancet Maternal Health Series Into Action” as a part of the Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series. The goal of this discussion was to explore strategies for translating findings from The Lancet Maternal Health Series into global maternal newborn health improvements.
The MHTF is looking forward to seeing more scientific breakthroughs and innovative programming from the global maternal health community in 2017 as we work together to end preventable maternal deaths and improve maternal health worldwide.
What were your 2016 highlights from the global maternal health community? What do you hope to see in 2017? Tell us what you think!