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MSD for Mothers Develops New Program to Reduce Maternal Deaths in Zambia

Program sets out to upgrade entrepreneurial maternity waiting homes to help pregnant women in remote communities reach quality health services

MSD for Mothers has joined with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The ELMA Foundation to harness the potential of maternity waiting homes to reduce maternal deaths in Zambia. Our goal is to help pregnant women in remote areas reach timely, quality maternal healthcare by building and strengthening these waiting homes – residences near health facilities where women can stay in the late stages of their pregnancy as they prepare to give birth and in the critical period immediately following childbirth. Improving access to quality care will help to save maternal and newborn lives. Together, our three organizations are contributing $11 million.

In Zambia, distance challenges are considered a leading contributor to the country’s high maternal mortality ratio of 224 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. Women often have to travel long distances to reach the nearest health facility, making it difficult for them to get the care they need during pregnancy, childbirth and immediately postpartum.

Maternity waiting homes can help overcome these distance challenges by enabling women to reside closer to health facilities as they approach the end of their pregnancies. In fact, the government of Zambia has included maternity waiting homes in the country’s efforts to reduce maternal mortality.

“It is a tragedy to think that women may die during pregnancy and childbirth simply because they cannot reach a health facility in time,” said Dr. Priya Agrawal, executive director, MSD for Mothers. “Our support in combination with that of the Gates Foundation and The ELMA Foundation has potential to reduce the number of women dying in Zambia by offering pregnant women a place to stay before going into labor and immediately after delivery, and our hope is to help create homes that women and their communities can be proud to use and manage.”

MSD for Mothers, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The ELMA Foundation are each partnering with organizations in Zambia to upgrade 24 maternity waiting homes throughout the country – all of which will be located near high-functioning health facilities equipped to provide quality care and manage life-threatening emergencies that can arise during pregnancy or childbirth. Africare, in collaboration with the University of Michigan, and Boston University, in collaboration with the Zambia Center for Applied Health Research and Development, will lead the program, supporting local communities to manage the homes. The goal of the program is to create entrepreneurial models of these homes and test a variety of income generating activities to promote their long-term financial sustainability. The program will include an in-depth evaluation to help the maternal health field determine whether maternity waiting homes can be both an effective and sustainable solution to help women overcome distance barriers to quality care.

The three-year project will begin in the districts of Kalomo, Choma, Nyimba, Mansa and Lundazi, and it builds on the existing efforts of each organization to lower maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa – where more than half of all maternal deaths occur. The project also represents part of MSD for Mothers’ commitment to Saving Mothers, Giving Life, a public-private partnership led by the U.S. Government to reduce maternal deaths in the region.

“We hope that our partners can create maternity waiting homes that will benefit families for years to come, giving pregnant women a comfortable place to stay and providing communities a valuable source of income and pride,” said Dr. Agrawal.