The Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) and the Management and Development for Health (MDH) co-hosted the second Global Maternal Health Conference (GMHC2013) in Arusha, Tanzania from January 15-17, 2013. Designed as a technical meeting, GMHC2013 served as a platform for sharing data and insights, exploring new developments and innovations, identifying knowledge gaps and building consensus on strategies for improving the quality of maternal health care and, ultimately, eradicating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity. With the major gains in maternal health that have been observed over the past ten years, accompanied by the looming 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, the issue of maternal health is clearly at a crossroads: we have achieved a great deal, but it is still not clear what place maternal health will hold in the post MDG-era.

The MHTF and our GMHC2013 partners worked to ensure that it would be a galvanizing event for the ever more diverse maternal health community from the first stages of planning through the collection of feedback from conference attendees. Now, with the results of the GMHC2013 complete, it is clear that the conference’s theme, along with the conference’s spotlight on emerging issues, such as respectful maternity care and malaria in pregnancy, proved to be powerful organizing forces.

Conference Overview

GMHC2013 brought together over 700 delegates representing 59 nationalities, including substantial contingents from Tanzania (16 percent), India (10 percent), Bangladesh (7 percent), Nigeria (6 percent), Kenya (4 percent) and Ethiopia (3 percent). Delegates represented government, academic and non-governmental institutions working to improve the quality of maternal health services in over 127 countries. Delegates included clinicians, donors, policy makers, master trainers, researchers, students and program specialists.

Following an open process for submitting abstracts, the conference’s Scientific Sub-Committee reviewed and evaluated submissions, and only authors of abstracts ranked very highly were invited to register for the conference. This abstract-driven approach attracted 1500 submissions—tripling the number of submissions for the first GMHC, in 2010—a fact which reflects the vitality and diversity of the maternal health community. Moreover, nearly half of the presenters received scholarships to attend.


“It was a real pleasure for me to join your successful Conference, to meet old friends and to rejoice in the infusion of new blood in the safe motherhood movement. I know successful conferences do not just happen. There must be a lot of very hard work behind it. Congratulations, best wishes for your good work and warmest regards.”

Not only were many delegates kind enough to offer positive feedback on the conference as a whole, but many also volunteered to share their impressions of conference sessions. Their contributions were featured in a series of guest posts on the MHTF blog, which extended well beyond the completion of the conference itself. Throughout, feedback and blog posts alike highlighted the opportunity that the conference presented for vibrant discussions of evidence related to many aspects of maternal health, including emerging areas, such as malaria in pregnancy and respectful maternity care.

Survey Results

From January 17 to February 15, the MHTF invited conference participants, including those who viewed sessions online, to provide feedback on the conference by filling out a short survey posted on the MHTF website. The survey was completed by 356 participants.

We are pleased that a majority of the respondents had positive things to say about the conference overall. For instance, over 90 percent of survey respondents said they were likely to attend another global maternal health conference, and 88 percent felt that the abstract-driven approach to organizing the conference was fair.

Organizing a global conference is a challenge, and the survey also pointed to some areas for improvement. A common theme was the challenge of enabling participants to engage more deeply with conference’s themes and material. For instance, many participants reported that they found it frustrating to have to choose between parallel sessions, or felt that the question and answer sessions that followed the plenary sessions were truncated and did not allow enough time for in-depth discussion.

Pre-Conference Logistics Mean
Abstract notification process 3.94
Registration process 4.02
Travel scholarship process 4.15
Website information 3.99
Conference communications 4.07
Respondents were asked to rate the following items on a scale of 1(low) to 5 (high)


Conference Logistics and Program Mean
Conference facilities 3.70
Food at the conference 3.28
Staffing/assistance at the conference 4.03
Conference program 3.86
Translation services 3.84
Duration of the conference 3.75
Organization of the program (3 plenaries, parallel sessions, posters) 3.55
Overall organization of the conference 3.91
Respondents were asked to rate the following items on a scale of 1(low) to 5 (high)

Themes and Topics

Conference Themes Mean
Program Approaches and Tools to Improve the Quality of Maternal Health-care 4.54
Measurement of the Quality of Maternal Health-care 4.55
Strengthening Health Systems to Improve the Quality of Maternal Health-care 4.61
Access to and Utilization of Quality Maternal Health-care 4.56
Evidence-Informed Policy and Advocacy for Quality Maternal Health-care 4.46
Respondents were asked to evaluate the relevance of the five conference themes to their work on a scale of 1(low) to 5 (high)


When asked to rank the five conference themes according to the usefulness to their work, there was no clear winner, indicating that all conference themes were relevant. This was echoed in the comments section, where a number of respondents stated that all of the themes were relevant, and declined to rank them.

Plenary Session Mean
Science for Activism: How Evidence Can Create a Movement for Maternal Health 4.46
Maternal Health in Urban Settings 4.03
Respectful Maternal Health Care 4.59
Respondents were asked to evaluate the relevance of the three plenary sessions their work on a scale of 1(low) to 5 (high)

When ranking the plenary sessions, it was clear that all plenary sessions were well received, as each had a mean score of 4.0 or higher, on a five-point scale. When asked to rank the plenary sessions, nearly half (46 percent) of the respondents selected the Science for Activism plenary as the most relevant to their work, followed by Respectful Maternal Healthcare and Maternal Health in Urban settings. The majority of respondents (65 percent) stated that GMHC 2013 introduced new and innovative topics, and respectful maternal healthcare was most frequently identified as the most innovative topic of the GMHC 2013. Other innovative and new topics identified included: maternal nutrition, infectious diseases (malaria in pregnancy), mHealth and family planning. In addition, a significant proportion (37 percent) of participants named themes and topics that they felt could have been addressed in greater depth. These covered a diverse set of issues, including: adolescent health, sexual and gender-based violence, mental health, maternal morbidity, accountability, human rights, underlying causes and human resources.

On the whole, responses to the survey were overwhelmingly positive. In conclusion, we would like to share a few observations by survey respondents:

“The conference was vibrant, fresh with energy of implementers, practical presentations of great quality and really huge impressive gathering; great effort.”

“As a student and junior academician I learned a great deal and got some ideas to work on in my local context.”

If you were unable to take the GMHC2013 Survey, but would like to share your thoughts, please email

Thank you again to everyone who participated in the GMHC2013 and the conference survey.