Women in Zambia marched to demand increased access to health facilities for mothers, newborns, and children. The march was organized by the Zambia Alliance for Maternal Neonatal and Child Health, which is chaired by PATH. Photo: PATH/Germany photo graphics.
Local advocates step up for women, newborns, and children
In Zambia, a woman gives birth and is told to bring her newborn son back to the clinic in six weeks when he will be due for immunizations. But within days, the baby becomes feverish. By the time his mother decides to return to the clinic, it’s too late.
In India, a woman begins to bleed while giving birth at home. The closest health center is miles away, and the family’s only form of transportation is a bicycle. They delay, hoping for the best, risking the lives of both mother and child.
In Malawi, a newborn has sepsis, but the village health worker doesn’t have the injectable antibiotics needed to rid the little girl of the deadly infection.
PATH’s approach to country advocacy
It may not seem obvious at first blush, but each of these situations has something in common: a lack of governing policy, policy implementation, or resources that ensure health solutions are within reach. PATH helps women and children around the world overcome gaps and barriers in access to health care by advocating for policy change in their communities, one step at a time. Our work includes:
- Collaborating with key stakeholders, including ministry officials and civil-society partners, to influence the priorities and actions of decision-makers to create policy environments that support good health, bring global standards to the local level, and expand access to health solutions.
- Sharing compelling evidence on health challenges and how to solve them with policymakers and influencers.
- Providing current and aspiring advocates and organizations with the tools and support they need to implement global health policy change in their countries. Using PATH’s ten-part advocacy strategy (562 KB PDF) approach, health advocates and champions can achieve health policy changes and push for accountability to save lives.
PATH has supported hundreds of people in more than 50 countries to realize critical health policy changes, as illustrated in the examples below. By supporting country objectives ranging from prioritizing immunizations to increasing funding for research and development to ensuring access to key health interventions, we’re ensuring that the tools that could save lives never arrive too late.
Partnering to influence priorities: newborns get an action plan
Take our work in Zambia, a country that was reducing child deaths overall but failing to make progress on reducing newborn deaths. Government policies did not focus on newborn health, and government decision-makers rarely addressed the issue directly.
Newborns in Zambia now have a higher chance of surviving their first months of life, thanks to the efforts of local advocates. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.
PATH, civil society organizations, and the government built a coalition of key stakeholders and launched a consultative process to create a national guideline for newborn care. The framework outlines a continuum of care linking maternal, newborn, and child health interventions. The policies and guidelines that resulted from the framework now provide gold-standard guidance for health workers and a foundation for decision-makers to allocate staff and budget to newborn health services.
“Before we were just looking at child health,” said Dr. Frances Mwansa, acting director for Child Health at Zambia’s Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health. “The sensitization and activities during the creation of the framework helped bring down the number of deaths by creating a new emphasis on the newborn.”
With new policies in place, advocates can now push for increased resources for maternal, newborn, and child health and ensure that the policies are working to save lives.
Sharing evidence: ambulances to the rescue
In Uttar Pradesh, India, far too many women were dying in childbirth for lack of transportation to a hospital or clinic. Although the state government committed to purchasing 2,000 ambulances, questions remained: How would women access the ambulances? What services would be offered en route? How would facilities be equipped to receive the ambulances? These, too, are policy questions.
PATH worked with health advocates to collect evidence for a policy framework and convened advocates and government decision-makers on a task force, which provided the guidance for a comprehensive emergency medical transport program (333 KB PDF). Now any woman in the state can dial a toll-free number and expect an ambulance—staffed with a skilled attendant and life-support services—within 30 minutes.
Tools for advocates: bringing solutions home
In 2012, Malawi’s government signed on to a global initiative called the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children, pledging to make a list of 13 prioritized medicines and technologies available to women and children throughout the country. Despite the government’s pledge, the Malawi Essential Medicines List was still missing a number of the 13 lifesaving commodities. As a result, crucial items like injectable antibiotics and newborn resuscitation devices weren’t stocked in many rural clinics.
With support from PATH, local advocates gathered 15 partner organizations to present a civil-society petition to the government. For six months, these empowered advocates held high-level meetings, stood behind their petition, and strategically used the media to commit policymakers to updating the list.
In January 2015, the Ministry of Health officially updated the Essential Medicines List to include each of the 13 recommended commodities. Now, advocates are working to ensure adequate funding so all mothers, newborns, and children have access to the basic medicines they need to survive.