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The Role of "Local Leaders" in Maternal Health

February 13, 2012

In 2010 and 2011, maternal health campaigners gave ourselves a pat on the back for putting maternal health on the global agenda, and generating over $70 billion in new commitments to improve maternal and newborn health. This was no small accomplishment; for decades, maternal health was a largely invisible global scandal.

But what does this all mean if politicians and local leaders don’t know about these promises?

Joseph Mbilinyi has committed to pushing the government of Tanzania to deliver on their commitments.

In a recent meeting with Joseph Mbilinyi (aka Sugu), a Member of Parliament in Tanzania, a tireless campaigner for health equality, and a leading rap artist, he told the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) that he was shocked to learn that 26 women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth in his country.  

If Members of Parliament are unaware of the commitments that their heads of state have made in global forums, and if they are unaware of the reality for pregnant women and mothers in their constituency, then who will make it a priority to ensure that governments are upholding their commitments to maternal health?

We, as a civil society, and as change makers against this global injustice, must take a stand and work with our elected representatives and local leaders. In Sri Lanka, for example, maternal deaths decreased dramatically when the government prioritized that pregnant women receive skilled care. But it was political will that made a difference—as was the case in Rwanda, Thailand, and Honduras.

Kabale members sent a petition to their politician requesting that health workers who had been employed be put on the payroll. The politician engaged with the Ministry of Finance and within one month of the petition, there were 30 percent more midwives on the payroll.

Whether done as an individual or as a group, speaking out plays a vital role in making change. In Uganda last year, the membership in Kabale district worked with the District Health Officer, the local politicians, and the Ministry of Finance to increase the numbers of midwives by 30 percent. This was achieved by simply pushing the right people at the right time, in the right direction.

Local leaders are just as important to engage as politicians.  

When WRA members in Zambia discussed maternal health with Chief Mumena, a local leader in the country, he decided that no more women would die from pregnancy in his village. Chief Mumena made provisions for every pregnant woman to have dedicated health care, and not one woman in his village has died during pregnancy or childbirth since.

Chief Mumena meets with First Lady of Zambia Mrs. Banda.

We all have a very important part to play in making motherhood safe for women around the world.  Make your voice heard—spread the word

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