Innovations in Maternal and Infant Health Address Chronic Problems Creatively

 

Bangladesh; Flickr user Michael Foley
Women in Bangladesh. Photo by Flickr user Michael Foley.

More than 350,000 women die each year around the globe from complications of childbirth, and 3 million children die in the first month of life. In the face of such dire numbers, development experts will focus on what is working around the world to improve the situation next week during the Millennium Development Goals assessment at the U.N. General Assembly.

A new report from the U.N.’s Every Woman, Every Child Innovation Working Group, out in the Lancet Monday, looks at some of the promising and innovative projects that could help change those statistics. Learn about five interesting approaches that could be models for other countries struggling with high maternal and infant mortality:

Project: ColaLife, Zambia

Have you ever traveled to a rural part of a developing country and been astounded to find that bottles of Coke also managed to find their way there? ColaLife is piggy-backing on Coca-Cola’s extensive supply chain to provide isolated communities with much-needed medical supplies.

Self-contained “aid pods” filled with supplies can fit into any unused crate space and are delivered to local contacts when beverage supplies are distributed.

The group is currently working on an anti-diarrheal kit that would carry rehydration salts, soap, water treatment tools and educational materials. Diarrheal disease is one of the leading causes of death for children under five in the developing world, but is preventable and treatable.

Project: HERproject, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam

Reaching women where they work is the strategy at HERproject (Health Enables Returns), which now operates in more than 70 factories in seven countries. The group trains female employees at factories manufacturing everything from Levis to Microsoft to teach their peers about reproductive health, nutrition, infectious disease and other health issues. The project also links women up to health services, either by improving in-factory clinics or directing women to outside government services.

Project: Cell-Life, South Africa

Pregnant women who are HIV-positive can prevent their babies from contracting the disease with medication, but only if they take it correctly. In South Africa, 40 percent of children under five still die from AIDS-related illnesses, in part because many mothers don’t complete the mother-to-child prevention programs. Cell-Life developed a 10-week program of text message reminders designed to help mothers remember when to attend appointments, give medication and tell them how to safely feed their babies. A randomized trial is ongoing, but so far results suggest that mothers using the SMS program are more likely to get their babies tested for HIV.

Project: LifeSpring, India

Low-income women in India usually have two choices for maternal care and child birth: wait in long lines at overcrowded government facilities or risk breaking the bank by paying for private care. Seeking to provide a middle-ground alternative, LifeSpring developed a chain of hospitals for women who earn about between $3 to $6 a day that provides an all-inclusive maternal care package for about half or one-third what other private facilities might offer.

The facilities cut costs by using a no-frills environment, and by breaking down complex processes into different tasks, some of which can be done by less-skilled professionals.

Project: SMS for Life, Tanzania

When a grocery store is sold out of milk, it’s an inconvenience for customers. When a clinic in Sub-saharan Africa runs out of malaria medication, it’s a life-and-death supply issue for patients. A public-private partnership in Tanzania between several groups, including Novartis and the ministry of health, produced the SMS for Life system in an attempt to end such stock-outs. SMS messages on stock levels, along with a data system used to map distribution helped cut the proportion of health facilities reporting malaria shortages from 78 percent to 26 percent in 21 weeks.

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