The Programme Designed to Decrease Mother and Child Deaths in Africa

Photos courtesy of Shanti Uganda

Maternal mortality dropped by 44% globally between 1990 and 2015. Despite this progress, the number of deaths remain alarmingly high, with more than 800 women dying due to pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications every day.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost all maternal deaths – 99% of cases – occur in developing countries, with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for more than half of these.

Meanwhile, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, public and private enterprise are looking at ways to reduce the number of deaths. One such initiative General Electric (GE) and Miller Centre for Social Entrepreneurship’s ‘Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme.’ Launched in 2016, it seeks to train, mentor and encourage social entrepreneurs in the field of healthcare to use innovative and emerging trends in tackling maternal and child mortality rates.

Investing in skills development of social entrepreneurs is an ingenious approach. In Kenya, as in many other developing countries, there’s an unequal of healthcare workers from city to city. Nairobi and Mombasa, for example, has more healthcare workers than say Narok and Samburu. It is for this reasons that social entrepreneurs are able to step in to provide alternative sources of medical care, and provide maternity and childcare information to those who would ordinarily not have access.

Seventeen social entrepreneurs from across Africa were selected for the first cohort of the Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme. Participants attended a three day in-person workshop in Nairobi where senior Miller Center Mentors and GE business leaders trained them on basic business fundamentals, worked on their strategic thought processes, and advised on how to pitch their business plan while demonstrating impact, growth and long-term financial sustainability.

A six-month online accelerator programme with weekly in-depth mentoring on Silicon Valley principles and the Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) methodology – which has been refined through 12 years of working with more than 570 social enterprises worldwide – followed the on-site workshops. On completion, a graduation was held in Nairobi where the candidates had the opportunity to pitch their business plan to a panel of potential investors.

Robert Wells, Executive Director of healthymagination, who leads GE’s team in exploring key opportunities to increase the quality, accessibility and affordability of healthcare, says: The entrepreneurs learn a range of skills that help them build their enterprises. Everything from finance to supply chain to human resource management to marketing, communications and media management, regulatory and legal. They also receive the invaluable mentoring from Silicon Valley executives, both on the general skills of building a business and attracting investment and on specific skills areas like intellectual property management.”

The programme also incorporates mentorship by experienced GE executives in a range of areas, including supply chain, business development, communications and finance.

In as much as the programme is business-oriented, its main aim is to ensure that women have access to quality pre- and ante-natal care by addressing problems as availability of screening tools, and diagnosing the potentially fatal pregnancy-induced hypertension, among others.

Participant Natalie Angell-Besseling, Executive Director of The Shanti Uganda Society, describes the programme as “timely” as it came at a point when her organisation in Uganda was about to launch the ‘Supporting Safe Birthing in Uganda’ initiative, a midwifery training institution with the aim of educating midwives. So far they’ve helped support 1,000 births with a skilled midwife, and conducted 7,500 antenatal and 2,120 postnatal visits.

Anna Gildea, Managing Director of Village Hopecore International, was also part of the first Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme cohort. She it as “challenging, exciting and every week, it was something different. The modules were all super helpful and really helped us redefine our business model.”

Based out of Chogoria, Eastern Kenya, HopeCore started as a pilot programme with a dozen women, after the founder recognised the need for health education and services for mothers and young children. It has grown to assist hundreds through their wellness clinics that provides education on important issues such as child nutrition and immunisation, and as a medical diagnostics service provider focusing on affordable, mobile ultrasounds in Kenya.

Gildea encourages other social entrepreneurs to start expanding and see how they can contribute to improving maternal and child health in East Africa, adding “…let’s all work together because everyone has an interesting model and we can collaborate and push the health of mothers and children forward.”

Another Healthymagination programme participant, Mercy Owour, was recently recognised by the Women in Global Health (WGH) for her role as Director of the Lwala Community Alliance in Migori, Kenya. Their ‘help a child reach their fifth birthday’ initiative tackles various dimensions of poor health including mother to child transmission of HIV, unskilled deliveries, lack of emergency transport, delayed treatment of childhood diseases and poor prenatal care.

It’s undoubtedly going to be a mammoth task to decrease the maternal mortality rate from the current 216 deaths per 100, 000 live births, to the target of less than 70 deaths by 2030, but with initiatives like the Healthymagination Mother and Child Programme, it might be possible. The Social Entrepreneurs are showing us the importance of working from the “bottom up” in communities,” says Wells, “something that’s especially important in healthcare delivery of healthcare is an intrinsically local task.”

Fourteen entrepreneurs working in nearly a dozen countries across the region have been selected to participate in the programme’s second cohort, adding their contribution to accelerating maternal health outcomes across Africa.