How partnerships Strengthen Investments in Women's Global Health

By Celina Schocken, Former Director of the Secretariat, Saving Mothers, Giving Life

On June 20, I represented Saving Mothers, Giving Life  at a Capitol Hill roundtable on strengthening U.S. investments in women’s global health through innovative partnerships.

It’s a timely conversation, with U.S. budgetary constraints heightening the importance of building cost-effective partnerships which ensure public investments deliver maximum impact. 

Organized by Janet Fleischman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the panel focused on Saving Mothers, as well as Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon – prominent public-private partnerships underway in Zambia, a country quickly establishing itself as a hub for innovative health partnerships.  

There were several important takeaways which we will certainly have at the top of our minds as we continue to plan for Saving Mothers'  next phase.

PPPs are about more than cash resources: PPPs require significant financial resources for implementing interventions and managing operations.  But Jeffrey Blander, Acting Director of Private Sector Engagement in the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, emphasized that it’s the other things a partnership brings to the table – new technologies, effective management and oversight, supplies, diagnostics, management and skilled staff support – that can make the biggest difference.  

And Aslak Brun, from Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed the need to engage the competence of industry, research and academia. I’d add to this private sector innovation and entrepreneurialism.  Companies are willing to take risks, try new approaches that might not work, and then talk about it, so others don’t make the same mistakes and resources can be focused on what does work.

PPPs help stimulate, and support, country ownership:  Ambassador Palan Mulonda, Zambia’s envoy to the United States, noted that before HIV, health care delivery was considered the responsibility of the government. With PEPFAR, and now programs like Saving Mothers, more non-state partners have joined the effort to improve health systems.  Host governments realize that the tap will not always flow – and so they are increasing their own outlays for health workers, drugs and medical supplies and infrastructure.  Innovative partnerships can complement government investments with smart interventions that maximize efficiencies and deliver greater impact. Zambia is open to new ideas – its leaders want to pursue established best practices, and work in collaboration to support its maternal health strategy.

Choose the right partners, right from the start:  Identifying the best partners to fill specific gaps in programs is vital. Saving Mothers, Giving Life  tried this from the start – choosing partners like Merck for Mothers and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists with relevant expertise and experience on things like working with the local private sector, and training and mentorship. Based on the gaps we’ve identified in the first phase, we’re seeking new partners with expertise and resources to bear in innovative healthcare business models, sustainable infrastructure development (e.g. construction, energy, etc.), pioneering approaches in transportation & logistics, cutting edge mobile communication technology, and new approaches to workforce development.

Robert Clay, USAID's deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Global Health, helped close the event by sharing a salient African proverb: “If you want to go quick go alone.  If you want to go long, go with others.”  

Public-private partnerships can work. To achieve bold missions, and eliminate preventable maternal deaths, we need to work together. We can no longer let women die because we haven’t figured out how to join forces and channel resources effectively. That’s the promise of Saving Mothers. Working together, we can create a world where no woman dies giving life.


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