Creating Real Change for Women and Children in the World's Poorest Communities Requires Innovative Partnerships

In Kenya, one of the countries where my organization, World Health Partners, works, an average of 17 women die every day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Each day in Kenya, more than 90 newborns and 200 children under the age of five die, many of them from preventable and treatable diseases.

It sounds stark, but these numbers represent good news, actually.

Because in Kenya, maternal deaths have dropped 17%; newborn deaths have dropped 19%; and the deaths of children younger than five have fallen 52% in the last 25 years.

Yet, the harsh reality remains: hundreds of Kenyan women and children die every day because they lack ready, affordable access to lifesaving healthcare.

Last week, representatives from organizations all over the world including my own organization gathered at the UN for the release of the updated Global Strategy for Women's, Children's, and Adolescents' Health.

This new strategy document offers us another opportunity to turn the world's attention to the deplorable state of women and children's lives in the world's most underserved communities. It also sets forth a roadmap for the next fifteen years of work we have ahead of us.

With this in mind, many organizations made formal commitments at the UN gathering about what they will do in the years to come to incite real change for women and children.

This is critical, because if the numbers tell us anything, it is that we have seen real progress in the last two decades, and yet, that there is so much left to do. Real change for the many millions of women and children in poor communities will only come through the concerted, sustained effort of many organizations, through new models and approaches, and through partnership.

So before I tell you about the commitment WHP made last week, I want to talk about a new partnership that was recently announced.

Last week, UNICEF and The Philips Foundation announced the launch of the Maternal and Newborn Health Innovations Project in Kenya in collaboration with several partners, including the Kenyan government and the Ministry of Health.

The aim of the project is to develop new health technologies and solutions to drive better maternal, newborn, and child health. While the exact approach of this collaboration is yet to be announced, it is a great example of new kind of partnership, which I think is critical in the decades to come. The Maternal and Newborn Health Innovations Project in Kenya is being launched by a UN agency, a foundation associated with large Dutch technology and consumer products company, a software company, and the government of a developing country.

This is what I would call an innovative partnership. It is an example of the types of unexpected alliances we must look to if we are to make a dent in what are age-old challenges plaguing millions of communities around the globe.

For our part, the World Health Partners team also made a formal commitment to the Every Woman Every Child campaign to reach eight million women and children in rural Kenya over the next five years with maternal, newborn, and child healthcare services.

For us, this means bringing needed healthcare--a timely consultation for a baby's cough, prenatal care for a newly pregnant woman, a fast referral for treatment for a grandmother with an infectious disease--within walkable distance for every family.

Doing this for eight million women and children in Kenya is ambitious. We know we can only achieve this goal through partnership with the Kenyan government, with local leaders, and with the healthcare professionals we rely to build our professional, telemedicine-enabled networks.

Our model also demands partnership because it relies on networks of people working together to extend healthcare into rural communities that have gone without it.

To build our networks, we recruit entrepreneurs in local communities. We train them to use basic SIM card-powered devices to offer community members a way to share vital medical information with network doctors, including blood pressure and pulse readings, stethoscope sounds, blood counts, fetal sounds, cardiac signals, and temperature.

We build systems for delivering medications, test results, and for enabling people in rural communities to get timely referrals to higher levels of care when they need it. These kinds of systems don't rely on medical breakthroughs or cutting edge technology. They are built with existing resources, and they save lives.

Our systems bring together the social skills, community relationships, and problem-solving mentality of local entrepreneurs and the medical skills of health professionals in the public sector, which is often is a little short of empathy for the community. Through these partnerships and networks, we offer a vast range of services directly to people's doorsteps in some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. I think our model is another example of the kind of creative solutions that can forged when the focus is on innovative partnerships, and I hope this focus is part of a growing trend in the development community.

In honor of the movement launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2010, the Every Woman Every Child campaign, and in acknowledgement of the work we have ahead of us, I would like to thank the many, many organizations and individuals who are working tirelessly to improve the lives of women and children around the world.

The task we have in front of us is monumental. It will only be achieved through many years of concerted efforts. I would like to ask those of us working in the fields of global health and international development to reconsider our perspectives and existing models as we transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Are there connections we have overlooked? Partnerships we have failed to form? New ways of working together that we have not yet explored that could do more to reach the women and children living world's most underserved and create meaningful and positive change in their lives?

I offer this, an open invitation to anyone, however far afield your work and approach may be from mine, to talk about new possibilities for partnerships with the aim of making positive, sustainable improvements in the lives of women and children in the world's underserved communities.