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Tracing the money: A new tool to impact the budget process

2015 March 4
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Kathleen Schaffer is senior program officer for Anglophone Africa at Family Care International.

A dilapidated clinic, falling tiles, a never-ending leak. Barren and disorganized medicine shelves. An overcrowded maternity ward with desperate, soon-to-be mothers crying out for help. One nurse scrambling to meet the needs of the many patients who have come through the doors. When clients lament the clinic’s disrepair, or doctors request more supplies and personnel, they’re met with the same hopeless reply: “There’s no money.”

Through Family Care International’s (FCI) Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project in Kenya, international, national and grassroots organizations as part of the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (RMNCH) Alliance are demanding better facilities, adequate and respectful maternity care, and especially, more health personnel. Kenya has only 11.8 health workers per 10,000 people–more than 40% fewer health workers than the World Health Organization’s minimum recommendation of 22.8 health workers per 10,000 people.

Of course any effort to increase the quantity and quality of health workers will have to be paid for, and that means dealing with the budget. For many of us, budgets seem abstract and intimidating, but it’s vital to engage with them since they reflect the government’s priorities and determine where the public’s money goes.

In order to make realistic demands, we need access to information about Kenya’s budget. However, over the last few years Kenya decentralized many decision-making processes, including budgeting, to the county-level. This recent decentralization has made it difficult for us to intervene effectively during the budget process.

Kenya calendar 2

But now, civil society organizations in Kenya can engage with budget decision-makers at the right moments thanks to a new Annual Budget Cycle Calendar, developed by the MACS project.

This new easy-to-read calendar shows the key dates for the Kenyan Annual Budget Cycle at both the national and county levels, enabling citizens to participate in both the setting of priorities and in accountability processes.

It is a great resource not only for maternal health advocates but also for the broader health community and county government officials, such as those from the Health and Finance Committees. The RMNCH Alliance will distribute the calendar in counties all over the country, and we hope to see it on many office walls as a constant resource for advocacy opportunities.

Ultimately, by being able to participate in and monitor the budget process more effectively, we will ensure that the government fulfills its commitments to maternal, newborn, and child health, and that the budget reflects the needs and priorities of the community and not just politicians.

Budget accountability in the midst of the Burkina Faso revolution

2015 January 26
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By Manuela Garza

Manuela Garza is an independent consultant and is co-founder of Colectivo Meta. She is currently engaged as a consultant to FCI’s Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project, on which she works to build the budget analysis skills of health-focused civil society organizations in Burkina Faso.

For the past seven years, it was my good fortune to work at a job that allowed me to work with brave and committed activists in interesting and beautiful places. As a staff member of the International Budget Partnership, I found myself in Mombasa, Kenya, where ordinary citizens conducted ‘social audits’ to claim their communities’ fair share of government financial resources; in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where 500 women and men voiced their priorities for spending of earthquake rehabilitation funds; in Beijing, where civil society groups were trained to pursue budget transparency and accountability in a context where silence rules; and in Abbra, a remote region in the Philippines, where rural villagers have advocated for and achieved truly participatory budgeting.

In recent months, FCI’s MACS initiative has been working in Burkina Faso to strengthen the capacity of civil society groups to effectively advocate for more and smarter spending of public funds to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health in their communities. Last October, I was engaged, together with my Malian colleague Boubacar Bougodogo and Burkinabé budget researcher Hermann Doanio, to develop and facilitate a weeklong workshop to train grassroots advocates to understand and engage with public budgets. We arrived in Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital, on a calm and warm West African evening, all of us ready with our slides on the budgeting process, our spreadsheets, our budget calculation formulas, and our case studies. Business as usual, or so we thought.

Little did we know that, in the course of that week, the citizens of Burkina Faso would overthrow the dictator who had been ruling the country for the past 27 years. Thousands of people (young people, mostly) took to the streets with a very clear message for President Blaise Campaoré: they wanted him out, for good. They were no longer willing to tolerate corruption and abuse of power, they declared: Burkina is ready for democracy.

In the midst of these historic events, you may be wondering, what did our Burkinabé colleagues, who had put this week aside for budget training, do? Was the workshop still relevant during these revolutionary days? Of course, every participant was closely watching the dramatic events taking place outside the training venue; each participant was concerned and worried about what they would mean for their families and their country. At the same time, however, they remained committed to take full advantage of this unique opportunity to learn about a new tool that will enable them to carry out evidence-based advocacy. They stuck around, they learned, and they questioned; they talked about their country, about change, and about what these new skills could help them achieve. They discussed the potential for how things could change, including in the way that the government sets priorities and spends public money— that is, the people’s money!

Civil society plays a key role in ensuring that governments prioritize spending on women’s and children’s health.

Civil society plays a key role in ensuring that governments prioritize spending on women’s and children’s health.

Is budget accountability still relevant in a context of earthshaking change? My experience says that it is. Revolutions are tricky things: countries and their institutions can change either for better or for worse, and conditions may take a long time to stabilize. If change is managed wisely and stability returns quickly, as seems to be happening in Burkina, revolution can provide an opportunity for a fundamental shift in the balance of power—toward the people. This can vastly increase the possibility of reshaping inefficient and corrupt institutions, of fostering new structures that institutionalize transparency and accountability. In a country like Burkina Faso, accountability for public resources is an essential element of overall accountability.

In this context, investing in building the skills of civil society groups is crucial, because the significance and sustainability of positive change largely depends on a well-organized and well-prepared civil society. These are the times when advocates and grassroots organizations most need support, when citizens most need to develop new knowledge and skills in civic participation, when accountability and participation-related processes are more necessary than ever. The MACS project is doing just that, and FCI’s local partners in Burkina Faso will continue to arm themselves with new tools such as budget analysis, so that their advocacy has more impact, their voices are heard, and they can be effective forces for real, sustainable change.

Good luck to them and to Burkina Faso–a country that many people cannot even locate on a map but which has a lot to teach us when it comes to citizen power!


MamaMiso: A simple medicine provides hope to Uganda mothers

2015 January 6
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By Andrew Weeks and Shafia Rashid

Andrew Weeks is Professor of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of Liverpool and the Principal Investigator of the MamaMiso study. Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer at Family Care International (FCI). Through research and advocacy, FCI works with Gynuity Health Projects and other partners to support increased access to and availability of misoprostol for prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. 

Sarah Nerima was working on her banana plantation when she went into labor. Unable to reach a health center – the nearest was 6 miles away – Sarah gave birth in the fields, attended only by her mother-in-law. Already a mother of two, she had bled heavily in each of her previous deliveries, and she was afraid that a hemorrhage could take her life, leaving three motherless children.

For the 50% of women in rural Uganda who, like Sarah, give birth outside a health facility, a simple, safe and effective medicine, called misoprostol, can prevent or stop life-threatening bleeding. Misoprostol is a medicine that comes in tablet form, can be stored without refrigeration, and be administered without any specialized skills. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) in settings where the standard of care, oxytocin – which requires cold storage and is administered by injection – is not available or cannot safely be used. WHO also recommends that misoprostol can be administered by community health workers for PPH prevention when skilled health providers are not present.

Some countries with high rates of non-facility births distribute misoprostol at antenatal care visits to women directly (a strategy called ‘advance distribution’), but WHO – citing unanswered questions about the safety and effectiveness of self-administered misoprostol in home births – has held off on recommending advance distribution, calling for additional research.

In Uganda, a research team from the University of Liverpool, Gynuity Health Projects, and Makerere University has tested the safety and feasibility of this community-based distribution model. MamaMiso, as this 2012 study was aptly called, provided misoprostol tablets to pregnant women for self-administration immediately after childbirth to prevent bleeding. Working in 200 villages in Mbale district, Eastern Uganda, the research team recruited women who came for antenatal care at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital or 3 large health centres (Busiu, Lwangoli and Siira) nearby.

Every pregnant woman at more than 34 weeks of gestation living in the recruitment villages was eligible to participate. Each participant was given a small purse, with a string that could be hung around the neck, containing 3 foil-packed tablets (600 micrograms misoprostol or placebo). Women were told to bring the purse home, to keep it with them, and to swallow the pills immediately after birth if they delivered at home. They were given an instruction sheet with written and pictorial instructions on how to take the tablets. Women were advised not to take the tablets if they went to a health facility for their delivery. Each participant was visited at 3 to 5 days after birth to check whether she had taken the medicine and to collect clinical outcomes.

MamaMiso’s results showed that self-administration of misoprostol is safe, and that advance distribution during antenatal care has the potential to increase the number of women who receive a medicine to prevent PPH. Of the women who enrolled in the research study, 57% gave birth at a facility and 43% delivered at home. Of those women who delivered at home, almost all (97%) took the study medicine after childbirth. Only 2 women (0.3%) took the medicine prior to delivery, and neither suffered adverse effects. Women who took misoprostol did experience fever and shivering, but they found these side effects to be acceptable.

These findings, together with results from other studies examining community-level use of misoprostol, have spurred national stakeholders to take action. The national Ugandan ob-gyn society has called for updating the national guidelines on PPH prevention to recommend community use of misoprostol, specifically enabling women to receive misoprostol as part of antenatal care. ‘We cannot continue to let women die when we have the solutions,’ said Dr. Charles Kiggundu, vice president of the Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Uganda. ‘The hindrance to using scientifically proven drugs is with health workers, not the women.”

Sarah Nerima was one of the women included in the MamaMiso study. After delivering her baby daughter among the banana trees, she opened her MamaMiso purse, and took the pills. “The bleeding was very, very little this time”, she said, “As you see, I am already very strong.”

Sarah had her MamaMiso purse with her when she gave birth, and took the misoprostol pills. In contrast to her 2 previous deliveries, she did not experience heavy bleeding, and she and her baby came through the childbirth safely.

Sarah had her MamaMiso purse with her when she gave birth, and took the misoprostol pills. In contrast to her 2 previous deliveries, she did not experience heavy bleeding, and she and her baby came through the childbirth safely.

Breaking the silence on gender-based violence in Mali

2014 December 18
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Adama Sanogo is Program Officer at Family Care International in Mali, working at the national office in Bamako and supervising FCI’s programs in Mopti. Adama authored a post on gender-based violence last year.

Samira [not her real name], a married Burkinabe woman, took a vacation to Mali to visit her sister. One evening, they attended the Balani Show, a cultural festival of traditional music and dance, in Mopti. Samira’s sister decided to go home early, but Samira opted to stay out a little later. Later that evening, Samira walked back to her sister’s house alone when a group of young men—residents in her sister’s neighborhood—attacked and gang-raped her. The next morning, Samira contacted Family Care International for care and took her case to the police. Her attackers and their families immediately began to pressure her to drop the case. As the social intimidation mounted, even Samira’s own sister, afraid of conflict with her neighbors, advised Samira to stop pursuing the case. Despite encouragement from social workers and legal counsel provided by Family Care International (FCI), Samira eventually abandoned the case against her rapists. Although Samira wasn’t able to pursue justice, she found support, and allies, at FCI.

Since 2012, Mali has endured drought, armed rebellion, and a political coup and French military intervention, all of which have undermined the country’s stability and security and left a population especially vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV). GBV is a glaring indicator of persistent inequality between men and women and represents a breach of fundamental rights to life, liberty, security, dignity, non-discrimination and physical and mental integrity. GBV exists in all forms but the most severe and common include: rape, sexual assault, assault physical, forced marriage, denial of resources/opportunities/services, and psychological/emotional violence. Responding to and preventing GBV requires the prioritization of the survivors’ best interests and strict compliance with four guiding principles: security, respect, confidentiality and non-discrimination.

FCI-Mali is committed to ensuring women and children who have suffered GBV have access to medical care, psychological support, and legal counsel. In Mopti and the surrounding villages, we have formed protection teams–consisting of village and community leaders and often, an FCI-trained ‘youth leader’–to identify women and children survivors of GBV. These protection teams refer survivors to FCI for medical or psychological support and educate communities about GBV in order to prevent further violence against women and children. Sometimes, GBV survivors seek out FCI without a referral, because of our reputation as a safe place. FCI is also working with the Malian government through the Regional Directorate for the Promotion of Women, Children and Family Mopti (DRPFEF) to create the Women’s House of Mopti, in which women survivors have access to social workers and psychological counseling. The social workers also organize activities for children and coordinate theater company performances. This center primarily serves to strengthen the resilience of GBV survivors.

FCI-Mali works with communities to prevent GBV and provide support to survivors of GBV.

FCI-Mali works with communities to prevent GBV and provide support to survivors. (Pictured: Participant in a Bamako-based program that educates youth on GBV prevention.  Photo credit: Catherine Lalonde)

FCI also hosts a radio program to broadcast information about GBV, and our efforts to deal with it, to an even wider audience. Due to limited airtime, we only have a few minutes to explain that GBV exists and that it is a violation of human rights and the rights of women. We encourage survivors of GBV to break their silence, take back their bodies and rights, and request care–even anonymously–from FCI.

Unfortunately, in Mali, social attitudes tend to direct shame and blame on the victims of rape and sexual violence, deterring many GBV survivors from pursuing justice in court. Although we recommend that survivors fill out an incident report, the first step towards holding the aggressor responsible, many women decline. Of the most severe rape cases that I have seen in Mopti (on which FCI has assisted), only eight victims have chosen to pursue the case with the police. If a survivor decides to complete a police report and it arrives in the courts, the parents, the family, and the relatives of the accused–and sometimes of the accuser–will create social pressure to dissuade the accuser from seeing the case through. In one case, a 10-year-old girl suffered a brutal rape, but her parents decided not to pursue the case. They wanted to protect their daughter from further shame and social abuse she might endure if her identity as a rape victim became public.

At FCI, we are working to change traditional societal ideas about rape and sexual violence which stigmatize women victims, because these attitudes make it nearly impossible for us to prevent women from suffering. For instance, aggressors in Mali don’t fear the state justice system because they know that victims rarely persist in bringing charges through court. Therefore, we adapt our GBV strategy to our particular cultural setting. We focus on changing social and cultural ideas around gender-based violence through education and awareness training. We are one of the few organizations in Mali undertaking this type of community education and awareness work through radio programs, protection teams and myriad other peer education programs in order to catalyze holistic change in the communities in which we work.

We hope our work will lead to a Mali that does not disparage survivors of GBV, diminish women’s rights, or tolerate social, economic, or emotional violence toward women. It is challenging, arduous work, but we believe that with our current strategies–with every peer education program, with every education workshop, with every radio program–we are changing the cultural and social expectations in Mali for the better.


Briser le silence sur la violence basée sur le genre au Mali

Adama Sanogo est agent de programme à Family Care International au Mali qui travaille au bureau national à Bamako et supervise des programmes de FCI à Mopti, une ville sur le fleuve Niger à plus de 8 heures de route au nord. Adama a écrit un autre témoignage sur le travail de FCI au Mali en matière de violence basée sur le genre l’année dernière.

Samira, une Burkinabée mariée, a pris des vacances au Mali pour visiter sa sœur. Un soir, elles ont assisté à une soirée culturelle de masse (appelé « BALANI SHOW ») à Mopti ou elles ont passé la soirée à écouter de la musique et à danser. La sœur de Samira a décidé de rentrer à la maison tôt, mais Samira a choisi de rester un peu plus tard. Plus tard ce soir, Samira se dirigea toute seule vers la maison de sa sœur quand un groupe de jeunes -résidents du même quartier que sa sœur – l’ont attaquée et l’ont violée. Le lendemain matin, Samira a pris contact avec Family Care International pour les soins médicaux et psychosociaux et a aussi porté l’affaire à la police. Après être allée à la police, ses agresseurs et leurs familles ont immédiatement commencé à faire pression sur elle d’abandonner l’affaire. Vu que la pression sociale devenait forte, même la sœur de Samira craignait sa relation sociale avec ses voisins, finit a conseillé Samira d’abandonner l’affaire. Malgré les encouragements de l’assistante sociale de FCI et du conseiller juridique, Samira a finalement décidé d’abandonner l’affaire contre ses violeurs présumés. Bien que Samira ne était pas en mesure de poursuivre la justice, elle a trouvé soutien et alliés, au Family Care International.

Depuis 2012, le Mali a subi la sécheresse, une rébellion armée et un coup d’Etat politique, qui sont entre autres des facteurs qui ont compromis la stabilité et la sécurité du pays et a laissé une population particulièrement vulnérable à la violence basée sur le genre (VBG). La VBG est un indicateur flagrant de l’inégalité persistante entre les hommes et les femmes à cause des considérations sociales et représente une violation des droits fondamentaux à la vie, une atteinte à la liberté, et à l’intégrité physique et mentale. La VBG existe dans toutes les formes, mais selon la classification universelle de l’outil GBVIMS du Comité de Pilotage en matière de VBG, on retient les six types suivants en fonction de la gravité : le viol, l’agression sexuelle, l’agression physique, le mariage forcé, le déni de ressources/d’opportunités/ou de services et la violence psychologique/émotionnelle. Travailler pour la réponse et la prévention des VBG nécessite le respect strict des 4 principes directeurs à savoir, la sécurité, le respect, la confidentialité et la non-discrimination. Cette intervention doit être centrée sur l’intérêt supérieur des survivants(es).

FCI-Mali s’engage à assurer que les femmes et les enfants qui ont souffert de la VBG aient accès aux soins médicaux, au soutien psychologique et aux conseils juridique. Dans la commune de Mopti et des communes environnantes couvrant plusieurs quartiers et villages, nous avons formé des équipes de protection – composés des chefs de village, de leaders femmes au sein des communautés et souvent de jeunes leaders – qui font l’identification des femmes et enfants ayant subit des VBG pour leur référencement afin de bénéficier d’une prise en charge. Ces équipes de protection réfèrent les survivantes vers les assistantes psychosociale et la psychologue de FCI pour le soutien psychologique et médical – Ces équipes de protection font également la sensibilisation des communautés sur les VBG, afin de prévenir de nouvelles violences contre les femmes et les enfants. Parfois, les survivantes de VBG s’adressent à FCI directement sans référencement, grâce à notre réputation comme un lieu sûr.

FCI-Mali travaille avec les communautés pour prévenir la VBG et apporter un soutien aux survivantes de VBG. Crédit photo: Catherine Lalonde

FCI-Mali travaille avec les communautés pour prévenir la VBG et apporter un soutien aux survivantes. (Photo: Participant à un programme basé à Bamako qui éduque les jeunes sur la prévention VBG. Crédit photo: Catherine Lalonde)

FCI travaille également avec les radios pour la diffusion des messages de prévention des VBG et de la séparation familiale mais aussi pour des messages d’orientation des survivants sur la prise en charge holistique. Cette collaboration avec les radios du cercle de Mopti et la radio régionale a pour but d’atteindre un plus grand public. Ces émissions radio permettent d’encourager les survivants(es) à aller vers les services de prise en charge et renforcer la prévention des cas de VBG au sein des communautés.Nous encourageons les victimes de VBG à briser le silence, à renforcer leur résilience, reprendre la vie normalement et avoir accès à leurs droits, et de demander des soins-même de façon anonyme-de FCI.

Pour faciliter ce travaille, FCI collabore avec le Gouvernement malien à travers la Direction Régionale de la Promotion de la Femme, de l’Enfant et de la Famille de Mopti, (DRPFEF) pour animer un espace filles/femmes à la Maison de la Femme de Mopti, dans le quel une psychologue met son service à la disposition des femmes surtout les survivantes, une animatrice sociale assure la mise en œuvre des activités ludiques à l’intention des enfants, coordonne la prestation d’une troupe de théâtre forum. Ce centre permet surtout aux survivantes de VBG de renforcer leur résilience.

Malheureusement, au Mali, les attitudes sociales, les croyances, etc. ont tendance à renforcer le sentiment de honte chez les survivantes de VBG, surtout le cas de viol ou autres violences sexuelles et amener la communauté à blâmer ces victimes, un fait qui démotive, décourage de nombreuses survivantes de GBV à poursuivre les auteurs présumés à la justice ou au tribunal. Bien que nous informons les survivantes et les oriente pour les plaintes à la police et la poursuite judiciaire, la première étape pour responsabiliser l’agresseur présumé, de nombreuses femmes refusent de faire ces plaintes et poursuite judiciaire. Des cas de viol les plus graves que j’ai vu à Mopti (sur lequel FCI a aidé), seulement huit victimes ont choisi de poursuivre l’affaire à la justice. Si une survivante décide de porter l’affaire à la police et engager la poursuite judiciaire dès que l’affaire arrive dans les tribunaux, les parents, la famille et les parents de l’accusé – et parfois de l’accusateur – vont exercer une pression sociale pour dissuader la survivante (la plaignante) au maintien du processus juridique, voir à abandonner l’affaire. Un autre exemple du cas d’une fille de 10 ans qui a subi un viol brutal, mais ses parents ont décidé de ne pas poursuivre l’affaire. Ils voulaient protéger leur fille des regards sociaux à cause de la honte et d’abus social qu’elle pourrait subir si elle a été publiquement identifiée comme une victime de viol.

A FCI, nous travaillons avec la communauté à la base pour changer des perceptions sociales, les idées traditionnelles de la société par rapport au viol et d’autres violences sexuelles qui mettent la vie de la femme et des enfants en danger, qui contribuent à développer le sentiment de honte chez les victimes. Nous travaillons pour changer les comportements et attitudes de la communauté qui blâment les femmes qui sont victimes, parce que ces attitudes rendent presque impossible nos efforts d’empêcher les femmes victimes de souffrir. Par conséquent, nous adaptons notre stratégie de lutte contre la VBG à notre contexte culturel particulier. Au Mali les agresseurs ne craignent pas le système judiciaire de l’Etat parce qu’ils savent que les victimes maintiennent rarement leur plainte au niveau des tribunaux. Donc, ici au Mali nous nous concentrons d’abord sur l’information surtout la communication pour un changement de comportements et des idées sociales et culturelles autour de la VBG à travers l’éducation, la formation et la sensibilisation. C’est pourquoi les programmes de radio de FCI, les équipes de protection au niveau communautaire pour le dialogue social et nos autres programmes d’éducation sont en fait plus importants et pérenne pour mieux lutter contre les VBG.Nous sommes l’une des rares organisations au Mali qui entreprennent une stratégie ciblant la communauté à la base pour qu’elle soit au centre de l’intervention, en mettant l’accent sur la pérennisation de nos actions tout en apportant une réponse efficace à la situation en vue. Ce type de stratégie d’enseignement de la communauté et de sensibilisation à travers des programmes de radio, les équipes de protection et d’autres programmes d’éducation variés favorise la prévention des VBG mais aussi la réponse pour une prise en charge holistique. Nous espérons que ces activités permettront pour le Mali d’être un pays qui ne supporte ni la stigmatisation de victimes de la VBG ni les comportements et attitudes entravant les droits des femmes. C’est un engagement difficile à relever qui demande beaucoup de travail dur, mais avec les stratégies que nous développons pour nos projets et programmes, nous sommes sûr d’être en train de contribuer favorablement pour le changement de comportement social, culturelle au Mali pour le bonheur de tous.


Maternal health supplies ARE reproductive health supplies

2014 December 2
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Shafia Rashid is senior program officer for global advocacy at Family Care International.

In late October, the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) held its annual membership meeting in Mexico City. Representatives from governments, international organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and civil society came together to press for greater and more equitable access to reproductive health supplies. The RHSC’s focus includes family planning commodities, such as condoms, oral contraceptives, and other methods that allow men and women to safely and effectively prevent or space pregnancies.

MH supplies briefs coverThis was my first time attending the annual RHSC meeting. I was there because the Coalition has expanded its mandate to explicitly address maternal health supplies. Earlier this year, it commissioned FCI to develop a series of seven policy briefs, Essential Medicines for Maternal Health: Ensuring Equitable Access for All, which were launched at the Mexico City meeting. These briefs highlight challenges and strategies for increasing the availability of three maternal health medicines – oxytocin, misoprostol, and magnesium sulfate – and:

  • Make the case for increasing priority and investment in these medicines
  • Provide examples of successful strategies from around the world
  • Highlight linkages with reproductive health supplies

A special plenary session addressed this crucial question: How are maternal health supplies reproductive health supplies? This sparked a wide-ranging, engaging, and very interesting discussion. Here are some of the key points that emerged:

  • Many countries can already see clear value in linking reproductive and maternal health supplies, and are moving toward integrating their supply chains to include family planning commodities and essential medicines, including medicines for maternal health. In Ethiopia, for instance, the government (with the support of in-country partners) integrated their supply chain to include all health commodities and to connect all levels of the supply chain with accurate and timely data for decision-making. In Nicaragua, where the supply chain was vertical until 2005, the health ministry has integrated the essential medicines system with the contraceptives’ supply chain, which has now been automated and expanded to include all essential medicines.
  • The RHSC and other partners have developed a wide range of tools and resources to support countries in strengthening their forecasting, procurement, and other supply chain functions. Tools originally developed with a sole focus on reproductive health supplies now include or can be adapted to apply to maternal health supplies as well, so they can now be used by country managers working to improve the supply of maternal health medicines.
  • Lessons learned from successes in improving access to family planning commodities can help us to effectively address the challenges related to maternal health medicines. Family planning advocates have, for example, tracked government expenditures on reproductive health supplies: in Indonesia, budget analysis and concerted advocacy led the mayors of five districts to increase their family planning budgets by as much as 80%. Similarly, many countries — including Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay – have established contraceptive security committees that bring together multiple supply chain stakeholders to support coordination, address long-term product availability issues, and reduce duplication and inefficiencies. These committees have advocated for increased financial support for contraceptives, improved inventory management, developed standard operating procedures, published reports, and provided technical assistance. These efforts to increase budgets and ensure commodity security for contraceptives can effectively adapted and expanded to improve financing and security for maternal health supplies as well.

Many parallels and potential synergies exist between maternal and reproductive health supplies, and the reproductive and maternal health communities must take action to address the interrelated barriers that prevent access to and use of life-saving commodities. These actions include:

  • Advocating for development and implementation of supportive policies at the national and sub-national levels, and for dedicated budget lines to enable monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation
  • Improving government systems and procedures for procuring high-quality medicines and maintaining their quality throughout the supply chain
  • Investing in a streamlined, coordinated supply chain across sectors and levels, reducing inefficiency and duplicative efforts
  • Strengthening the knowledge and skills of health providers so that they are aware of evidence-based policies and guidelines and can effectively administer these essential medicines

→ For more information, you can download the Essential Medicines for Maternal Health policy briefs here.


Panelists at the plenary session, RHSC annual meeting, October 2014 Photo: RHSC

Health workers in many Kenyan clinics brave community health care alone

2014 November 18
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By Melissa Wanda

Melissa Wanda is Advocacy Program Officer for FCI Kenya. This article originally appeared on the blog for the Frontline Workers Health Coalition

In a village in rural Kenya, a woman in labor travels miles along rutted dirt roads to get to the nearest health center. She wants to give herself and her baby the greatest possible chance of surviving childbirth and returning home to begin new and healthy lives. When she arrives however, the gates are locked; the nurse has gone home.

Kenya, with only 11.8 health workers per 10,000 people (more than 40% below WHO’s recommendation of 22.8 per 10,000), is one of 57 countries — including 36 in Sub-Saharan Africa — with a critical shortage of health workers.

Many local health facilities have only one health worker, often a nurse, to provide all patient care. This puts a heavy strain on the health worker, and means that many intended 24-hour health facilities are often closed for extended periods of time. Kenya’s news media has also reported recent health worker strikes in reaction to late or non-payment of wages.

The Government of Kenya has committed to strengthening human resources for health in the public health system. Several civil society organizations (CSOs) working to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) have come together to advocate for the fulfillment of this urgently important promise. This alliance, co-led by Family Care International (FCI) and the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) under FCI’s Mobilizing Advocates from Civil Society (MACS) project, is conducting advocacy at the county level in Kenya, since counties are responsible for making many health spending decisions in Kenya’s recently decentralized administrative structure and health system.

With support from the MACS project, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW), a member of the advocacy alliance in Kenya, has surveyed community perceptions of the need for more health workers, and explored how effectively county governments have invested in addressing those needs. Working in two urban and two rural counties, DSW conducted research at various levels of the health system, including outpatient dispensaries, health centers, and hospitals. DSW found that counties are not budgeting or investing spending adequately enough to ensure that facilities have enough health workers to provide high-quality services. Although special funding has been set aside nationally to hire new health workers, counties have mainly been spending this money to pay current staff. DSW is sharing these findings with MACS and county health authorities, leading to one county already committing to hire an additional 72 nurses.

Kenyan health workers share frustrations and challenges of working at understaffed health centers.

Kenyan health workers share frustrations and challenges of working at understaffed health centers.

DSW also brought together community members and health facility staff to discuss the state of care at local health facilities. Community members complained that lack of staff meant an absence of essential services, especially at night and on weekends. Health workers expressed the frustrations of working alone, often lacking the drugs and supplies they need to treat their patients, and the low morale that comes from working under those conditions. For example, one nurse described a recent evening when she was the lone nurse caring for six women in labor!

These community meetings opened new channels of communication, fostering greater understanding and accountability between health workers and the communities they serve. This enabled health system users and health workers to join together in search of practical solutions.

Peter Ngure, DSW’s project lead, shared with me a story about one community in which participants said they prefer to come to the hospital — a long distance from their homes —in the afternoon, so they have time in the morning to travel there. In response, the hospital rearranged staff work schedules, deploying more nurses in the afternoon than morning hours. Similarly, community members learned that the hospital holds Monday afternoon staff meetings, helping to explain why appointments are often unavailable at that time, which had been a repeated source of frustration and confusion.

“This dialogue between community members and health workers helped to build much-needed goodwill during these very challenging times,” said Mr. Ngure.

FCI, DSW and the members of the civil society advocacy alliance will use these findings and experiences to hold county governments accountable for addressing the health worker shortage. When the Kenyan Ministry of Health releases its upcoming human resources for health strategy, which will provide specific guidance on exactly how many health workers should be assigned to each health facility, alliance members will work to make sure that counties follow that national policy, so that every Kenyan mother, seeking care for herself and her baby, will be greeted by open gates and a health worker with the skills and resources to ensure their survival and good health.


The true cost of a mother’s death: Calculating the toll on children

2014 October 23
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By Emily Maistrellis

Emily Maistrellis is a policy coordinator at Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and a research study coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital. This article originally appeared on Boston NPR station WBUR’s CommonHealth blog. 

COPE Tharaka August 07  049_FamilyCareInternational

A health worker interviews a client at a health care facility in Tharaka, Kenya. (Photo: Family Care International)

Walif was only 16 and his younger sister, Nassim, just 11 when their mother died in childbirth in Butajira, Ethiopia.

Both Walif and Nassim had been promising students, especially Walif, who had hoped to score high on the national civil service exam after completing secondary school. But following the death of their mother, their father left them to go live with a second wife in the countryside. Walif dropped out of school to care for his younger siblings, as did Nassim and two other sisters, who had taken jobs as house girls in Addis Ababa and Saudi Arabia.

Nassim was married at 15, to a man for whom she bore no affection, so that she would no longer be an economic burden to the family. By the age of 17, she already had her first child. Seven years after his mother died, Walif was still caring for his younger siblings, piecing together odd jobs to pay for their food, although he could not afford the school fees.

In all, with one maternal death, four children’s lives were derailed, not just emotionally but economically.

More than 1,000 miles away, in the rural Nyanza province of Kenya, a woman in the prime of her life died while giving birth to her seventh child, leaving a void that her surviving husband struggled to fill. He juggled tending the family farm, maintaining his household, raising his children and keeping his languishing newborn son alive.

But he didn’t know how to feed his son, so he gave him cow’s milk mixed with water. At three months old, the baby was severely malnourished. A local health worker visited the father and showed him how to feed and care for the baby. That visit saved the baby’s life.

As these stories illustrate, the impact of a woman’s death in pregnancy or childbirth goes far beyond the loss of a woman in her prime, and can cause lasting damage to her children — consequences now documented in new research findings from two groups: Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and a collaboration among Family Care International, the International Center for Research on Women and the KEMRI-CDC Research Collaboration.

The causes and high number of maternal deaths in Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa, and Kenya — the five countries explored in the research — are well documented, but this is the first time research has catalogued the consequences of those deaths to children, families, and communities.

The studies found stark differences between the wellbeing of children whose mothers did and did not survive childbirth:

  • Out of 59 maternal deaths, only 15 infants survived to two months, according to a study in Kenya.
  • In Tanzania, researchers found that most newborn orphans weren’t breastfed. Fathers rarely provided emotional or financial support to their children following a maternal death, affecting their nutrition, health care, and education.
  • Across the settings studied, children were called upon to help fill a mother’s role within the household following her death, which often led to their dropping out of school to take on difficult farm and household tasks beyond their age and abilities.

How do we use these new research findings to advocate for greater international investment in women’s health?

At a webcast presentation earlier this month, a panel of researchers, reproductive and maternal health program implementers, advocates and development specialists discussed that question.

Central to the discussion was the belief that the death of a woman during pregnancy and childbirth is a terrible injustice in and of itself. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable, and physicians and public health practitioners have long known the tools needed to prevent them. And yet, every 90 seconds a woman dies from maternal causes, most often in a developing country.

The panelists expressed hope that these new data, which show that the true toll of these deaths is far greater than previously understood, can help translate advocacy into action.

It’s important to recognize that, beyond the personal tragedy and the enormous human suffering that these numbers reflect — some hundreds of thousands of women die needlessly every year — there are enormous costs involved as well. -Panelist Jeni Klugman, a senior adviser to the World Bank Group and a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“So quantifying those effects in terms of [children’s] lower likelihood of surviving, the enormous financial and health costs involved and the repercussions down the line in terms of poverty, dropping out of school, bad nutrition and future life prospects are all tremendously powerful as additional information to take to the ministries of finance, to take to the donors, to take to stakeholders, to help mobilize action,” said Klugman.

Just what does “action” mean? Currently, the countries of the world are debating the new global development agenda to succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious global movement to end poverty. Advocates can use this research to make the case that reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health should play a central role in this agenda, given that it reveals the linkages between the health of mothers, stable families, and ultimately, more able communities, according to Amy Boldosser-Boesch, Interim President and CEO of FCI.

Panelists also called for more aggressive implementation of the strategies known to prevent maternal mortality in the first place; as well as for the provision of social, educational, and financial support to children who have lost their mothers; and for continued research that outlines the direct and indirect financial costs of a woman’s contributions to her household, and what her absence does to her family’s social and economic well-being.

But action is also required outside of the realm of health care, said Alicia Ely Yamin, lecturer in Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health and policy director of the FXB Center.

In fact, the cascade of ill effects for children and families documented by this research doesn’t begin with a maternal death. The plight of the women captured in these studies begins when they experience discrimination and marginalization in their societies: “It [maternal death] is not a technical problem. It’s because women lack voice and agency at household, community, and societal levels; and because their lives are not valued,” she said.

Klugman added that this research adds to work on gender discrimination, including issues like gender-based violence, which affects one in three women worldwide.

It’s a tall order: advancing gender equality, preventing maternal, newborn, and child death, and improving the overall well-being of families. But panelists were hopeful that this research can show policy makers, and the public, that these issues are intertwined, and must be addressed as parts of a whole.

As Aslihan Kes, an economist and gender specialist at ICRW and one of the researchers on the Kenya study concluded, this research is “making visible the central role women have in sustaining their households.”

This is an opportunity to really put women front and center, making all of the arguments for addressing the discrimination and constraints they face across their lives. -Aslihan Kes


Making a human-rights and socioeconomic case for preventing maternal mortality

2014 October 22
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By Katie Millar
Katie Millar is a technical writer for the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF), where this article originally appeared. 
Panel at Women's Lives Matter

Photo: MHTF

On October 7, 2014, a panel of experts in maternal health—moderated by Dr. Ana Langer, the Director of the Maternal Health Task Force—gathered at the Harvard School of Public Health to discuss the socioeconomic impact of a maternal death on her family and community. Several studies were summarized and priorities for how to use this research were discussed by the panel and audience at “Women’s Lives Matter: The Impact of Maternal Death on Families and Communities.”

What does the research say?

In many countries around the world, the household is the main economic unit of a society. At the center of this unit is the mother and the work—both productive and reproductive—that she provides for her family. A study in Kenya, led by Aslihan Kes of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and Amy Boldosser-Boesch of Family Care International (FCI), showed great indirect and direct costs of a mother losing her life. This cost is often accompanied by the additional cost and care-taking needs of a newborn. “Once this woman dies the household has to reallocate labor across all surviving members to meet the needs of the household. In many cases that meant giving up other productive work, loss of income, hiring an external laborer, girls and boys dropping out of school or missing school days to contribute [to household work],” shared Kes. In addition, the study done in Kenya determined that families whose mother died used 30% of their annual spending for pregnancy and delivery costs; a proportion categorized by the WHO as catastrophic and a shock to a household.

Similar research was conducted in South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Malawi by Ali Yamin and colleagues. In addition to similar socioeconomic findings to those in Kenya, Yamin found that less than 50% of children survived to their fifth birth if their mother died compared to over 90% of children whose mothers lived. An even more dramatic relationship was found in Ethiopia with 81% of children dying by six months of age if their mother had died. In South Africa, mortality rates for children whose mothers had died were 15 times higher compared to children whose mothers survived.

Increasing the visibility of maternal death

While a family is grappling with grief they are also making significant changes in roles and structure to meet familial needs. Dr. Klugman emphasized this point when she said, “Quantifying [the] effects [of maternal death]… and the repercussions down the line—in terms of poverty, dropping out of school, bad nutrition, and future life prospects—I think are all tremendously powerful. [This] additional information [is] very persuasive—to take to the ministries of finance, to take to donors, to take to stakeholders—to help mobilize action for the interventions that are needed.”

Apart from the economic and social costs, is a foundation of human rights violations and gender inequalities. The high rate of preventable maternal mortality is no longer a technical issue, but a social issue. “Maternal mortality it is a global injustice. It is the indicator that shows the most disparities between the North and the developing world in the South. It’s not a technical problem, it’s because women lack voice and agency at household, community, and societal levels and because their lives are not valued. Through this research of showing what happens when those women die, it shows in a way how much they do [and how it] is discounted,” said Dr. Yamin, whose research focuses on the human rights violations in maternal health.

Leveraging this research for improved reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health

The research findings are clear: prevention of maternal mortality is technically feasible, the right of every woman, and significantly important for the well-being of a family and a community. Boldosser-Boesch provided three reasons why making the case for preventing maternal mortality is critical at this time.

  1. These findings strengthen our messaging globally and in countries with the highest rates on the importance of preventing maternal mortality, by increasing access to quality care, which includes emergency obstetric and newborn care.
  2. This research supports integration across the reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) continuum to break down current silos in funding and programs.
  3. “We are at a key moment… for having new information about the centrality of RMNCH to development, because… the countries of the world are working now to define a new development agenda, beyond the MDGS, post-2015. And that agenda will focus a lot on sustainable development… and we see in these findings… , connections to the economic agenda…, questions of gender equality, particularly what this means for surviving girl children, who… may experience earlier marriage or lack of access to education,” shared Boldosser-Boesch.

In order to move the agenda forward on preventing maternal mortality and ensuring gender equality, ministries of health and development partners must be engaged. In addition, donors can fund the action of integration to address a continuum approach and media outlets should be leveraged to disseminate these findings and hold governments accountable for keeping promises and making changes. The prevention of maternal mortality is a human rights-based, personal, and in the socioeconomic interest of a family, community, and a society.

This panel included:

  • Ana Langer, Director of the Maternal Health Task Force
  • Alicia Yamin, Lecturer on Global Health at the Harvard School of Public Health
  • Amy Boldosser-Boesch, Interim President & CEO, Family Care International
  • Jeni Klugman, Senior Adviser at The World Bank Group
  • Aslihan Kes, Economist and Gender Specialist, International Center for Research on Women

Watch the webcast here.

UNGA week shows maternal and newborn health are central to development challenges

2014 October 10
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Amy Boldosser-Boesch is the Interim President and CEO at Family Care International. This article originally appeared on the Healthy Newborn Network (HNN) blog.  

CD cover 2This year’s UN General Assembly was full of high-profile moments that reinforced the need for investment and action to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH): the launch of a Global Financing Facility to Advance Women’s and Children’s Health; the release of reports tracking stakeholders’ fulfillment of commitments to Every Woman Every Child; new data on maternal, newborn and child survival from Countdown to 2015; and a plethora of side events focusing on strategies and country progress toward MDGs 4 and 5. For Family Care International, which advocates for improved reproductive, maternal, and newborn health, this unprecedented level of attention to women’s and children’s health is a welcome sign that our advocacy is having an impact, and that global commitment to ending all preventable maternal and child deaths is stronger than ever.

RMNCH was a key theme in many other important discussions during the week, demonstrating the centrality of the health of mothers and newborns to a range of development challenges.

  • Events began with a Climate Summit that brought together leaders from more than 120 countries. The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health noted during the Summit that “women and children are the most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate, and those who are more likely to suffer and die from problems such as diarrhoea, undernutrition, malaria, and from the harmful effects of extreme weather events such as floods or drought.”
  • There was a special session to review progress towards achieving the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action. The ICPD agenda highlights the importance of ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and the importance of quality and accessible maternal health care, recognizing that healthy girls and women can choose to become healthy moms of healthy babies.
  • The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting where President Obama called for swift action on the Ebola epidemic that is destroying lives and decimating African health systems. This crisis highlights already-fragile health systems that lack sufficient health workers, supplies, and essential medicines–the same failures that contribute to maternal and newborn mortality. A recent news story details how pregnant women who are not infected with Ebola risk dying in West Africa due to lack of access to maternal health services, and the same risk exists for newborns and young children. The loss of skilled healthworkers, particularly midwives, could have enormous long term impacts on the ability of women, newborns and children to access life-saving care.
  • Finally, the UNGA week included high-level meetings on humanitarian crises in Syria, South Sudan and many other countries. According to the State of the World’s Mothers 2014 report, more than half of all maternal and child deaths occur in crisis-affected places. Discussions of humanitarian response in crisis settings included recognition of the disproportionate impact on women and children of violence, including gender-based violence, displacement, lack of access to food and lack of access to crucial maternal health services and early interventions for newborns. These crises and fragile health systems make achieving the Every Newborn Action Plan recommendations on ensuring quality care for mothers and newborns during labor, childbirth and the first week of life more difficult, but also more critical.

While this long list of world crisis may seem overwhelming, there is some good news on maternal, newborn and child survival. As the UN Secretary-General reminded us, the world is reducing deaths of children under the age of five faster than at any time in the past two decades and significant declines in maternal mortality have occurred in the past 10 years. As the world works together to shape the post-2015 development goals, these experiences during UNGA show that the new agenda must prioritize continuing to address maternal, newborn and child mortality which is linked to many of the world’s pressing development challenges, including poverty. As a recent editorial in The Lancet says, “As governments slowly come to an agreement about development priorities post-2015, it is clear that maternal and newborn health will be essential foundations of any vision for sustainable development between 2015 and 2030.”

Women’s Lives Matter: The impact of a maternal death on families and communities

2014 October 1
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The sudden death of a woman from largely preventable causes during pregnancy or childbirth is a terrible injustice that comes at a very high cost. Her death is not an isolated event, but one that has devastating repercussions on her newborn baby (if it survives), her children, husband, parents, other relatives, and community members.

On October 7th, 2014, FCI will join with the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to host a live webcast to explore new research documenting the dramatic economic and social impacts of a woman’s death during pregnancy or childbirth. We will feature new findings from Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa, which advocates can use to argue for efforts to save the lives of nearly 300,000 women who die each year from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes, almost all of which are preventable.Women's Lives Matter_7Oct2014 promo graphic

A mother’s death, tragic in its own right, impacts her family’s financial stability and her children’s health, education, and future opportunities. According to the Kenya study we conducted with ICRW and the KEMRI-CDC Research and Public Health Collaboration, when a mother dies in or around childbirth, her newborn baby is unlikely to survive. Surviving children are often forced to quit school or if they continue their studies, they become distracted from grief or new household responsibilities. Also, when a woman dies, funeral costs present a crippling hardship to her family, while the loss of a productive member disrupts the family’s livelihood.

The studies conducted by the FXB Center also revealed increased child mortality. Qualitative research illustrated a link between maternal mortality and the survival, health, and well-being of children. In Tanzania, for example, the FXB Center’s researchers found that children whose mothers had died during pregnancy or childbirth have a higher risk of being undernourished.  The loss of a mother, the central figure responsible for the care and education of her children, often results in the dissolution of her family.

Although countries have made great strides to improve maternal health, too many countries still have a high burden of maternal death. The most recent Countdown to 2015 report noted that of the 75 Countdown countries, which together account for more than 95% of all maternal, newborn, and child deaths, half still have high maternal mortality ratios (300–499 deaths per 100,000 live births), and 16 countries—all of them in Africa—have a very high maternal mortality ratio (500 or more deaths per 100,000 live births). The studies that will be presented in this webinar provide urgently-needed evidence that advocates can use to persuade governments, donors, and policy makers that investments in women’s health and maternal health are also investments in newborns and children, in stable families, in education and community development, in stronger national economies and, ultimately, in sustainable development. As the report, Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health, notes:

[I]nvestments in reproductive health are a major missed opportunity for development. Effective and affordable interventions are available to improve reproductive health outcomes in developing countries, and the challenge is less about identifying these interventions but rather in implementing and sustaining policies to put proven packages of interventions and reforms into practice.

Pregnancy and childbirth should never cost a woman her life. But this research shows that the true price of a maternal death is even higher than that. It is a premium her family will continue to pay long after she’s gone.

The live webcast will include the following panelists:

  • Dr. Ana Langer (moderator), Director of the Women and Health Initiative
  • Alicia ElyYamin, Lecturer on Global Health, Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health; and Policy Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights
  • Rohini Prabha Pande, Lead Researcher on A Price Too High to Bear, Independent Consultant on Gender and Health
  • Jeni Klugman, Author of Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health (2013) and lead author, Voice and Agency (2014)
  • Amy Boldosser-Boesch, Interim President and CEO, Family Care International

Please join us on October 7, 2:30 – 3:30 PM! View the webcast live and submit your questions to the panel in real time:

A Price Too High to Bear: The costs of maternal mortality to families and communities

2014 October 1
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by Amy Boldosser-Boesch

Amy Boldosser-Boesch is the Interim President and CEO at Family Care International. This article originally appeared on the MDG456Live Hub, curated coverage of women and children during the UN General Assembly. 

During the UNGA this week, many partners are committing to deliver on promises to accelerate progress on MDGs 4 and 5. There has also been a renewed focus on the importance of solid data to track progress on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and to hold governments and other stakeholders accountable for meeting their commitments. New research conducted in Kenya by Family Care International (FCI), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and the KEMRI-CDC Research and Public Health Collaboration has the potential to increase the momentum of efforts to save the lives of nearly 300,000 women who die each year (5,500 of them in Kenya) from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

FCI_Masaki mother and child

The study, A Price Too High to Bear, reveals the costs of maternal deaths on families and communities in Kenya.

Each of these avoidable, premature deaths is a tragedy in its own right, and a terrible injustice. Each of these women — some of them barely more than girls — has a right to life and health, and to a standard of health care that protects her from preventable illness, injury, and death.

But we who work to improve maternal health have argued for years that each of these deaths also brings countless additional layers of loss, pain, and destruction. The tragic, sudden death of a woman in the prime of life — in many cases already a mother and often the most economically productive member of the family — begins a cascade of loss and pain that upends the lives of those around her: her newborn baby (if it survives) and her older children, husband, parents, and other members of her family and community. The cost of a maternal death is, quite literally, a price too high to bear.

This new study provides urgently needed data to help persuade governments, donors, and policy makers that investments in women’s health and maternal health are also investments in newborns and children, in stable families, in education and community development, in stronger national economies and, ultimately, in sustainable development.

Based on interviews and focus group discussions with families, across a poor rural area in Siaya County in western Kenya, that had lost a family member to maternal death over a two-year period, we found that:

  • When a mother dies in or around childbirth, her newborn baby is unlikely to survive.
    Of 59 maternal deaths in the study, only 15 babies survived their first two months of life.
  • A mother’s death harms the educational and life opportunities of her surviving children.
    Many children had to leave school because the loss of a mother’s income meant that they couldn’t pay tuition fees, needed to work for a living, or had to take up essential household chores.
  • The cost of emergency care (even when unsuccessful), combined with high funeral costs, puts families under a crushing economic burden.
    Families spent more on funerals than their total annual expenditure on food, housing, and other household costs, after having already spent 1/3 of their annual consumption expenditure on medical costs.
  • Loss of income and high, unexpected costs send many families into a spiral of debt, poverty, and instability.
    Many families, under desperate financial pressure, had to sell household property, borrow from moneylenders, or move children out of the family home.

At the national launch of the research findings, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Hon. James Macharia, said, “A mother’s death ignites a chain of disruption, economic loss, and emotional pain that often leads to the death of her baby, diminished educational and life opportunities for her surviving children, and a deepening cycle of poverty for her family.” As the MDG deadline approaches and the post-2015 development agenda is defined, we hope this research will help to catalyze renewed commitment to ending preventable maternal mortality, so that no woman has to pay the high price of losing her life, and so that families, communities and nations no longer have to bear the burden of maternal death.

Learn more: On October 7th, 2014 (2:30 – 3:30 PM EDT), Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Family Care International (FCI), and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) will host Women’s Lives Matter: The impact of a maternal death on families and communities, a live webcast. The webcast will feature research findings from the Kenya study as well as those from four other African countries which document the dramatic economic and social impacts of a maternal death. Panelists will also discuss opportunities and strategies for using these important findings to advocate for political commitment, policy change, and sustained investment in reproductive, maternal, and newborn health in the context of the evolving post-2015 global health and development agenda.

More information on the webcast and subsequent Q&A:

New advocacy tool: briefing cards on SRHR and the post-2015 development agenda

2014 October 1
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Amy Boldosser-Boesch is the Interim President and CEO at Family Care International. This article originally appeared on the MDG456Live Hub, curated coverage of women and children during the UN General Assembly.

SRHRAs we move into the intergovernmental negotiations for defining the post-2015 development agenda, continued advocacy will be needed to link sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) to sustainable development. Do you have the talking points you need to make the case that governments must ensure the comprehensive inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights within the post-2015 development framework?

A new tool Briefing Cards: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and the Post-2015 Development Agenda can help. The briefing cards detail the linkages between SRHR and other key development issues including environmental sustainability, gender equality, economic growth, educational attainment, and broader health goals. Produced by FCI, with support from the UN Foundation, and co-authored by partners in the Universal Access Project, each one page card provides advocates with succinct arguments and key Facts at a Glance about the impact of SRHR on the broader development agenda. Each card also includes recommendations for inclusion of SRHR in the post-2015 development framework in a cross-cutting way, for example, by encouraging targets and indicators that address and measure the strong connections between girls’ education and their sexual and reproductive health and rights. All of the partners involved in developing the Briefing Cards hope that they will be a useful tool for advocates worldwide working to shape the social, economic and environmental aspects of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. The cards are available for free download; please share them with your partners and help us make the case with governments and other stakeholders in the post-2015 process that sexual and reproductive health and rights are integral to the achievement of all shared development goals.

For more information, please email contact[at] or womenandgirls[at]




Midwives and misoprostol: Saving lives from PPH

2014 August 25
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Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

For women around the world, compassionate and competent care from a midwife can mean the difference between life and death. We know that midwives provide life-saving care during pregnancy, childbirth, and in the postnatal period. Midwives, and other mid-level and community health providers, can administer essential medicines, such as oxytocin and misoprostol, which are safe and effective for preventing and treating life-threatening postpartum bleeding or hemorrhage (PPH), the leading cause of maternal death in most developing countries. Access to misoprostol is particularly important in developing countries, and especially in rural areas, because (unlike oxytocin) it requires neither refrigeration nor injection: it can be used in poorly equipped health facilities and even home births.

A midwife meets with a client during an antenatal care visit.

A midwife meets with a client during an antenatal care visit.

In order for midwives to provide life-saving maternal health care, they need the support of policies that enable them to provide a full range of medical interventions.  In some countries, however, midwives are not legally authorized to administer oxytocin and/or misoprostol —despite evidence that administration by low and mid-level health providers is feasible and effective. But physicians sometimes resist or oppose expansion of midwives’ scope of practice, based on notions of “professional territoriality” and concerns about their capacity to correctly and safely administer these medications.

Most women in low-resource settings give birth in lower-level health facilities or at home, attended by a midwife or other mid-level health provider. So restrictive policies requiring that administration of medications be carried out only by physicians limits women’s access to essential medicines they need for safe pregnancy and childbirth. Placing misoprostol in the hands of non‐physician providers, for example, can expand access to timely PPH treatment. In remote and rural areas, where transfer for emergency obstetric treatment at a higher-level facility may be delayed, difficult, or impossible, misoprostol could be administered by a low-level provider as a “first aid” treatment to stop bleeding.[1]

The global health community can play an important role in addressing and removing policy and regulatory barriers, and ultimately in improving women’s access to essential medicines. Making this happen will require that governments, in many countries, revise policies that allow administration of medications only by physicians.  In 2012, WHO issued guidelines  on task-shifting for maternal and newborn health. They called for a “more rational distribution of tasks and responsibilities among cadres of health workers …[to]  significantly improve both access and cost-effectiveness – for example by training and enabling ‘mid-level’ and ‘lay’ health workers to perform specific interventions otherwise provided only by cadres with longer (and sometimes more specialized) training.”  This makes excellent sense.

The leading global health professional associations focused on pregnancy and childbirth, the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), can work together to ensure that these international recommendations translate into changes in national norms and in clinical practice. Earlier this year, ICM and FIGO issued a joint statement, Misoprostol for the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage in low resource settings, which called on partners to:

  • Promote task-sharing approach
  • Ensure that skilled health providers (and not just doctors) can administer uterotonic drugs like misoprostol and oxytocin
  • Challenge regulatory and policy barriers that limit access to high quality maternal health care
  • Advocate for increasing the midwifery workforce
  • Implement innovative strategies to strengthen the role of midwives and non-physician providers in providing high-quality maternal health services

Health professionals, policy makers, and other partners must work together to ensure that every woman has access to the uterotonic medicines that can protect her from the suffering and potential death that can be caused by postpartum hemorrhage.


[1] Beverly Winikoff, Why misoprostol in the hands of non-physician providers matters, Presentation at the ICM Trienniel Congress, Prague, June 3, 2014.

Mapping maternal health advocacy in Uganda and Zambia

2014 July 16
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Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) around the world are working to improve maternal health and make a difference in the lives of women, families, and communities. In many countries, CSOs play a critical role in the health sector by providing quality maternal health services, and by supporting advocacy to ensure government policies are implemented, funds invested and tracked, and health outcomes measured and published.

A Zambian mother with her child © 2009 Arturo Sanabria, Courtesy of Photoshare

A Zambian mother with her child © 2009 Arturo Sanabria, Courtesy of Photoshare

In 2013, with support from Merck Inc. through the Merck for Mothers Program, Family Care International (FCI) completed a comprehensive mapping of the maternal health advocacy environment in two countries, Uganda and Zambia. Data for the mappings were collected at the national level (and at the district level in Uganda) using a multi-dimensional methodology which triangulated data from key informant interviews, focus group discussions, and desk research.

The mapping examined each country’s maternal health policy framework, identified stakeholders working in maternal health advocacy, and analyzed opportunities and challenges for maternal health advocacy organizations.  It also highlighted the potential for engaging the private sector on maternal health, and put forward a set of recommendations for strengthening maternal health advocacy efforts, and the role of CSOs in particular.

In Uganda, the mapping found that while there is a relatively active health advocacy sector and strong policy framework in place for maternal health, advocacy organizations are not coordinating efforts well, leading to a fragmented advocacy environment. In addition, maternal health advocacy organizations face critical resource constraints, and are not effectively measuring the impact of their advocacy work. For additional information, the full mapping report can be accessed here.

In Zambia, there exists a favorable policy environment for maternal health, and a strong evidence-based decision-making ethos in government. While Zambia is a signatory to a number of commitments to improve maternal health services, the maternal health advocacy environment is not particularly strong or robust. More information is available in the full mapping report here.

The findings from these mappings revealed a number of common themes and recommendations for supporting the critical role of CSOs in both countries:

  • Establish or enhance a coordinating mechanism through which the growing and diverse body of advocacy organizations can work together and advance common messages, agendas, and strategies.
  • Support local advocacy organizations, which often operate with limited resources, staffing, and capacity, to build their administrative, management, and planning capabilities in conducting effective advocacy.
  • Strengthen monitoring and evaluation of maternal advocacy efforts by supporting maternal health advocacy organizations in the development of tools, indicators, and mechanisms for measuring advocacy outcomes and impact.

Sustained and long-term investments in supporting CSOs to conduct effective advocacy for maternal health are needed now, more than ever. Without these investments, we will continue to be far behind in reaching national and global commitments for maternal health.

A health worker in Uganda counsels a client. © 1996 Center for Communication Programs, Courtesy of Photoshare

A health worker in Uganda counsels a client.
© 1996 Center for Communication Programs, Courtesy of Photoshare



To reduce death and ensure health, The Lancet launches Midwifery Series

2014 June 24
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by Family Care International

By Katie Millar

Katie Millar is a technical writer for the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF), where this article originally appeared. 

Today, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, The Lancet launched its newest series Midwifery. This series provides concrete actions for stopping preventable maternal and newborn death and ensuring perinatal health. The knowledge that midwives are key to preventing perinatal death is not new. However, scaling up the utilization of midwives on a systems level is lacking, which has prevented this solution from becoming a reality.

The Midwifery Series was created to provide concrete guidance and frameworks on how to utilize midwives and a new standard of care for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care (QMNC). At the center of this model of care are the needs of women and their newborn infants. Even though the needs of women across the world seem to differ greatly, this series clarifies that no matter where a woman lives, care led by a midwife is the answer to ensuring health. The series comprises four separate papers which were created by a multidisciplinary group, including academics, researchers, advocates for women and children, clinicians, and policy-makers. This multidisciplinary approach is necessary for addressing current gaps in perinatal care.

The current maternal and newborn health landscape often offers fragmented solutions and interventions to address the needs of women and their newborns. This fragmentation is a barrier to adequate perinatal care. These gaps in care lead to 98% of the annual 289,000 maternal deaths, 2.6 million stillbirths, and 2.9 million neonatal deaths. In order to mitigate these preventable deaths, improvements in the quality throughout the continuum of care and emergency services are imperative. The series supports a whole-system approach to improving perinatal care by ensuring skilled care for all.#2 FOR EVERY WOMAN AND EVERY NEWBORN CHILD

The Lives Saved Tool (LiST) was used in the series to model different levels of scale-up of essential interventions for reproductive, maternal, and newborn health (RMNH) which are within the scope of practice of a midwife. In low-resource settings even a 10% increase in the interventions covered by midwifery would decrease maternal mortality by 27%. Therefore, more rigorous scale-up could have an incredible impact on reducing maternal mortality.

The standard for QMNC presented in the series is globally applicable as it not only focuses on the scale-up of essential interventions, but also the harmful effects and necessary mitigation of over-medicalization of birth and perinatal care. Professor Petra ten Hoope-Bender, of the Instituto do Cooperación Social Integrare, Barcelona, Spain, said, “Although the level and type of risks related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum and the early weeks of life differ between countries and settings, the need to implement effective, sustainable, and affordable improvements in the quality of care is common to all, and midwifery is pivotal to this approach. However, it is important to understand that to be most effective, a midwife must have access to a functioning health-care service, and for her work to be respected, and integrated with other health-care professionals; the provision of health care and midwifery services must be effectively connected across communities and health—care facilities.”

In order to assist the development of health systems and their integration of midwives, the series provides three new tools:

  1. The Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care is applicable to all countries on not only what needs to be implemented, but how to implement strategies to reduce maternal, neonatal, and infant mortality and morbidity, improve quality of care, and increase efficiency of health systems.
  2. Country diagrams can be used to identify the most important elements required to strengthen a country’s health systems to provide quality midwifery services.
  3. Pragmatic steps provide a guide to initiate or further develop their midwifery services.

Midwives not only provide care at the time of birth, but work with women from before their pregnancy through their newborns infancy to prevent death and ensure health. This life course approach is essential for having a large impact on the needless numbers of deaths and morbidities. Check out The Lancet’s Midwifery Series for more details on how midwives will make a large difference in the lives of women and their children in the coming years as the post-2015 agenda is implemented.

To learn more visit the official website of the Midwifery Series and follow the conversation on twitter by following @midwiferyaction and #LancetMidwifery.