Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

MamaYe: Riding the Digital Revolution in Africa for Women and Newborns

April 17, 2013

For over 25 years there has been painfully slow progress in the life chances for a pregnant woman or her newborn in Africa. Yet we know why women and newborns are dying. We also know that being 'resource poor' is no excuse for the lack of progress observed to date. The missing ingredients are hope, expectation, basic information, and a belief that change is possible.

Africa’s maternal and newborn mortality is a matter of grave concern to international agencies and policy-makers. But how engaged are Africans in the issue?

Our informal poll of attitudes in five African countries – Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Malawi, and Tanzania – revealed that deaths in childbirth are widely regarded as ‘natural’ or ‘God’s will’ and little can be done to change the situation.

In some cultures the child is not named or celebrated for more than a week after birth, so unsure is the family of her or his survival. Added to this is the sure belief that local help in the form of health centres and hospitals are unfriendly, unaffordable, understaffed, and under equipped. Few families regard them as a place to go to avert ‘natural’ deaths - indeed few women know any basic facts about what help is theoretically available to them locally.

 By sharing information, actions, and messages, MamaYe will build a generation of young leaders who will help make maternal health more than “just a women’s issue.”

With expectations so low, Africans ask too little of their politicians and health systems. Women and their families expect too little. Helplessness and apathy among much of the public provide the context for this tragedy. With no pressure for action from the public, real accountability is almost nonexistent. The result: too many women and their newborns die.

Tackling the accountability gap and fighting apathy are the principles that underpin MamaYe, a new campaign launched in five countries over the past few weeks. MamaYe is led by African experts in evidence, advocacy, and accountability and is funded by the UK Department of International Development.

MamaYe is about going beyond health agencies and policymakers and engaging the African public. It is about putting information into the hands of the public and encouraging, showcasing and celebrating actions, however small, which can collectively create the change necessary to improve survival of mothers and babies.

Many unsung heroes are already leading the way:

  • The taxi driver that takes a woman to the clinic in the middle of the night.
  • The officials that keep supplies flowing; the students that donate blood.
  • The journalists that keep this issue alive.
  • The politicians that prioritise maternal health.
  • The community groups that keep track of pledges by politicians.
  • The young women training to be midwives, who will devote their lives to caring for mothers and babies.

MamaYe will encourage and support all these actions and it is taking advantage of the continent-wide digital and mobile revolution.

We know that more than 50 percent of the population of Africa is younger than twenty years of age. And that technology, especially mobile, is connecting them to a new world of information, entertainment, education, health services, banking, and more. Analysts expect that the current penetration in the realm of 70 percent across Africa’s 1 billion population will reach 1 billion devices by 2016.

MamaYe is preparing to ride the technology revolution sweeping the continent to connect with young people in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Malawi through digital and mobile phones.

By sharing information, actions, and messages, MamaYe will build a generation of young leaders who will help make maternal health more than “just a women’s issue” driving transformation in society and embolden change-makers to make the well-being of mothers and babies a priority for all Africans.

Examples may range from an infographic or statistic to help a community health worker rally help in demanding better resources from her local to a feedback system which enables users to rate the quality of their experience and have an opportunity to speak up when things go wrong.

Young African women and men will help ensure that girls and women know their rights, will demand accountability from decision makers, and will ensure that their sisters, mothers, aunts, girlfriends and babies survive and thrive.

Have you something or someone to celebrate? Let us know by tweeting to@MamaYeAfrica or commenting on our Facebook page, MamaYeAfrica. You can also reach us via email.


 
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