New policy series addresses maternal and child health

June 7, 2010 by PATH

PATH and partners focus on health systems strengthening in inaugural discussion

PATH has partnered with the Global Health Council (GHC) and Management Sciences for Health (MSH) to organize a new policy discussion series: Innovative Approaches to Improve Maternal and Child Health. The series is geared toward lawmakers, Congressional staff, policymakers, and global health colleagues.

The series kicked off on May 25 in Washington, DC, at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill with a congressional briefing on the role of health systems strengthening in improving maternal and child health. The briefing, titled “Is Health Systems Strengthening the Answer to Improving Maternal Health?,” highlighted the role of health systems strengthening in reducing maternal and child mortality and morbidity in low-income countries. Speakers described health systems strengthening as a continuous process that sustainably improves health systems and programs through policy, management, and quality changes. According to the panelists, health systems strengthening not only creates better health programs but also increases utilization of health services at community, regional, and national levels.

Nine congressional staff members joined a standing-room audience for the briefing. Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) was among the panelists, who also included Richard Greene of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Dr. Paul Waibale of MSH, and Dr. Altrena Mukuria of the Infant and Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) Project. Dr. Jeff Sturchio, GHC’s president and CEO, moderated the discussion.

Role of health systems strengthening in maternal and child health

Congresswoman Moore highlighted the critical role that health systems strengthening can play in addressing the problem of preventable deaths and illnesses in children and mothers in low-income countries.

Greene, who is the director of USAID’s Office of Health, Infectious Diseases and Nutrition, also addressed the important role of health systems strengthening in combating maternal and child health problems globally. He pointed to the significance of emphasizing quality assurance, strengthening human resources, ensuring programs work collaboratively, and focusing on integration of services as essential components for improving health services and care. There are also challenges associated with implementing health systems strengthening programs in the developing world, Greene noted, including the lack of indicators available to the global health community to demonstrate impact to scale. For programs to be successful and grow, they must use evidence-based approaches and globally accepted indicators that can last over time.

Dr. Waibale, director of the Prevention Organizational Systems AIDS Care and Treatment project at MSH, pointed to his work in Nigeria strengthening health systems to improve service delivery as an example of the kinds of approaches and solutions that can be important for improving maternal and child health. Country leadership is key for strengthening a country’s health systems, he said. In Nigeria, Waibale and his staff have built the trust of the national government and are including government officials in their efforts to strengthen the country’s existing health systems, an approach that is helping the project move forward successfully.

Dr. Mukuria, senior country program specialist for the IYCN Project—on which PATH is the prime implementer, with partners—spoke about integration of services, strengthening of health systems, and the importance of nutrition in combating preventable maternal and child health concerns. Dr. Mukuria highlighted the important work that IYCN does to improve health systems and increase the capacity of health workers, as well as how health systems are integral to improving the health of women and children throughout the world. IYCN helps countries and communities build their capacity to improve nutrition practices during the critical time from a woman’s pregnancy through the first two years of her child’s life. “Malnutrition and disease is the one-two knockout punch,” Dr. Mukuria said.

Next event in July

The next briefing in the series will be held July 21 and will focus on scale up, access, and delivery of maternal and child health technologies. For more information about the series, please email Megan Miller at

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