Saving mothers’ lives in Namibia
Up to a half a million women die each year around the world because of complications arising from pregnancy or childbirth. The majority of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Since they are largely preventable, they represent a tragedy playing out every day across the continent. Progress on maternal health there is hampered by health systems that are understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed—and thus too fragile and fragmented to deliver the required level or quality of care. Consequently, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa will struggle to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for reducing child and maternal mortality by 2015.2
Nonetheless, some countries are making headway. Our recent work in Namibia, for example, suggests that coordinated, targeted interventions led by local stakeholders can accelerate improvements in maternal-health outcomes. The key is to work with local health leaders to develop solutions that improve the quality of health care, increase access to it, and promote its early uptake.
The resulting interventions being pursued in Namibia are straightforward and practical—improvements in the training of midwives, cheaper antenatal clinics inspired by the design of shipping containers, operational fixes to reduce ambulance response times and wait times at clinics, a radio talk show to educate patients and stimulate demand—yet are collectively powerful. A closer look at Namibia’s ongoing efforts offers lessons for other countries seeking to improve maternal health, as well as for health programs tackling HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, or other conditions.
Video: Improving maternal health in Namibia: An inside look
McKinsey’s Thokozile Lewanika gives a behind-the-scenes look at several of the efforts underway to improve maternal health care in Namibia.