Collective Business Action to Reduce Maternal Mortality in Kenya

If you want to go far, go together,” said Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile phone operator, known for the incredibly successful M-PESA payments platform which has transformed the way money changes hands in Kenya.

This time Collymore was making news during the recent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit at the United Nations Headquarters announcing a new public-private partnership in Kenya in support of Every Woman Every Child, the multi-stakeholder movement launched by the UN Secretary-General in 2010 to advance women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health.  Safaricom is a founding member of the newly-formed Kenya Private Sector Health Alliance, together with several other leading companies, namely GSK Africa, Huawei Kenya, the Kenya Healthcare Federation, Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Royal Philips East Africa. Collectively, the companies announced a new commitment to impact 3.5 million people and drastically reduce maternal deaths in Kenya by 2020, in collaboration with the Government of Kenya and the UN’s H4+, led in this instance by UNFPA.

While Kenya is amongst the most developed and robust economies in Africa, it also suffers one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region with 488 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births. The aim of the Private Sector Health Alliance is to deliver “a combined assault,” to use Collymore’s words, in 6 counties in the north east of Kenya, where maternal mortality ratios reach up to 3795 per 100 000, higher even than in war-torn countries such as Sierra Leone or South Sudan. The 6 affected counties, Mandera, Wajir, Mrasabit, isiolo, Lamu and Migori, account for 10% of the country’s population yet represent 50% of maternal deaths. This is due to the poor level of infrastructure development and services, combined with the proximity to the chronic instability in Somalia, and frequent cross-border terrorist attacks.

The new public-private alliance strategically builds on several existing initiatives in Kenya that have timeously converged to tackle the challenge of high maternal mortality:

–          The Beyond Zero campaign to reduce maternal, newborn and child health championed by Kenya’s dynamic First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, since 2013.

–          The devolution of government and resources to local authorities and the Maternal and Newborn Health initiative, spearheaded by the UN in Kenya, which in 2014 convened governors in Kenya around a communiqué in which they committed to end preventable maternal deaths and improve the wellbeing, protection and health of women and girls.

–          The July 2015 launch of the Global Financing Facility for Every Woman Every Child at the Third International Conference for Financing Development in Addis, and for which Kenya is a frontrunner country.

Add to this mix the new private sector alliance – which is encouraging other companies to come on board – and which aims to apply business-focused competencies across areas such as supply chain management for health commodities; demand generation for family planning services and products; capacity building for health professionals in health facilities and the public sector; innovations in health information management systems and death and civil birth registration; access to energy; and youth empowerment and entrepreneurship.

Philips, for example, which has already piloted its innovative Community Life Center model elsewhere in Kenya, recently participated in an inter-agency visit to one of the 6 counties, Mandera. Philips plans to leverage the company’s core strengths in energy access to create opportunity in local communities which lack electricity, with a multiplier effect on health and education outcomes.  Safaricom for its part will leverage its digital expertise in providing mHealth learning, financial inclusion and data management services. An explicit shared value approach defines the collective business action, with the understanding that sustainable transformation in these hard-hit counties will not be achieved by a few isolated acts of charity.

Achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the vision of ending all preventable deaths of women, children and adolescents within a generation as  outlined  in the newly launched Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health will, as Bob Collymore said, require us to “go together.” This new public-private alliance demonstrates the potential that exists if we’re willing to work collectively.

By Natalie Africa, Senior Director, Private Sector Engagement, Every Woman Every Child, UN Foundation

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