USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Young Albanian Women Set Sights on IT

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

“We weren’t aware of how huge the event actually was until the day of the competition. When I saw the people and how important it was, the energy was overwhelming and I knew this was something I wanted to do again and again,” explained 20 year old, Egi Shijaku, about her experience at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15.

Egi Shijaku at the 2nd Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup held in Tirana, Albania on March 15. Photo credit: USAID

USAID was one of the main organizers of the 2013 Microsoft Imagine Cup which brought together 15 university-level teams to present their IT projects to judges. After the competition, USAID’s enterprise development project is providing technical assistance to the 2013 winners to help them commercialize their winning ideas. In addition, qualified businesses and organizations are eligible for a grant of up to $20,000 to introduce business technologies or innovations.

Shikaju was part of a three person team from Epoka University who competed in this year’s competition of innovative software applications. Her team submitted a mobile software application that allows users to upload photos and GPS data of garbage and waste in order to notify local government authorities responsible for clean-up.

“Garbage collection is really a problem that worries us all. Tirana and all the cities in Albania have the problem of waste that isn’t thrown in the right places and at times is thrown in public spaces.”

According to Shikaju, the key was to build something that was user-friendly and beneficial. Her mobile solution makes it easier for local authorities to monitor environmental hotspots and gives citizens the option to simply click and report. Just knowing how easy it is to report would serve as a deterrent.

While her team placed seventh this year, Shikaju is already thinking about next year’s competition and will participate in “Start-Up Week” in April. As a second year student studying Business Informatics, a new degree program which combines Computer Science and Economics, her future in IT, and that of many young girls like her, looks bright.

“I see business informatics, computer science, IT being a trend in Albania for young girls,” said Shikaju. There are currently 23 students in the program, half of whom are women.

“Right now there are a lot of systems being developed in Albania,” explained Shikaju.  “All the systems in the government are being transferred to computers. Businesses are looking for ways to transfer their business to the Cloud, so that is a sphere as well. I am always surprised with how huge this market is even as small as a country like Albania.”

The main impediment to growth of the IT sector, particularly programming and developing software, is lack of qualified applicants. As Albania’s IT sector expands, young women like Shikaju are jumping at the opportunity to get involved.  Shikaju said she surprised how in interviews with people, particularly after the Imagine Cup, there is significant interest in her, not because of her gender, but because of what programming language she knows.

Paying It Forward – How Education Can Create a Better Environment for Future Generations

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with  Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, Professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.

Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, PhD, is a professor of Environmental Engineering and Management at Asian Institute of Technology. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

How would you describe your work on emissions impact to an audience unfamiliar with this field? Why is this work important?

My research focuses on air pollution and its effects on public health, crops, and climate. Air pollutants are released from a variety of sources – stoves, indoor heating, vehicles, and heavy industry.  Outdoor fires such as burning of household trash or agricultural wastes in the field, like rice straw, also contribute. These pollutants directly affect our health. They may also be toxic to food crops, affecting the availability and price of the food we eat.

Some small sources of pollution can actually be quite significant. For example, smoke from indoor cooking and heating contains many toxic pollutants, including fine particles, gases such as carbon monoxide, and many carcinogens. Women and young children, who often stay indoors, have a higher chance of contracting respiratory diseases due to inhalation exposure.

Cleaner cooking stoves emit less smoke and have more effective ways to vent the dirty smoke out of kitchen than traditional cooking methods. Many governmental and non-governmental organizations are now working to produce and distribute cleaner and more effective cookstoves throughout the world.

Describe your career path – how did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I am grateful to my mother.  Although she did not get a chance to attend school formally, she understood the value of education, and always encouraged her children to study. She believed that with education we would have a better life. That has certainly been true for me and my siblings.

Prof. Kim Oanh training her students in a modeling class. Photo credit: Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh

I received my first engineering degree in meteorology from Odessa Hydrometeorology University, Ukraine.  After that, I came back to Vietnam and became a lecturer at Hanoi University. I was given scholarships to pursue my Master’s and PhD in Environmental Engineering and Management at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), which presented a great opportunity for me to further advance my scientific training.

Now, as a professor at AIT, I enjoy educating young people about environmental research and encouraging them to use their knowledge to work for a better environment for us and for future generations. I particularly try to encourage female students to be confident, and to believe that, with dedication and hard work, they can excel in their research. Women have just as much potential to achieve scientific success as men.

The Transformational Power of Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Christa Hasenkopf, NSF International Research Fellow, affiliated with National University of Mongolia and University of Colorado.

Can you describe your work and why it’s important?

I have been conducting research on air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which has some of the highest measured pollution levels in the world. Nearly half of Mongolia’s population lives in Ulaanbaatar, and over half of that city’s population of 1.3 million lives in the ger district, which is a mixture of traditional felt tent housing, as well as wooden homes. The ger district is not connected to the city’s central heating system, so residents must use other methods, such as coal-fired stoves, to keep warm through the long Mongolian winter.

Christa Hasenkopf (third from left) with PEER group at an air quality monitoring station in Ulaanbaatar in 2012. Photo credit: Christa Hasenkopf

Ulaanbaatar’s position in a valley, as well as certain meteorological conditions, trap smoke from these stoves (and from coal-fired power plants) near the surface of the city. In the ger district, daily wintertime smoke levels get so bad that it rivals the conditions firefighters experience fighting a wildfire! Consequently, the pollution has catastrophic human impacts: it’s estimated that 10-25% of deaths in Ulaanbaatar over a given year are pollution-related. Pollution in Ulaanbaatar costs the country over 500 million USD per year.

There have been many different efforts to mitigate the pollution, but there is not a strong, sustained long-term program to evaluate their effectiveness and share results broadly with the public. With support from USAID’s PEER Program and the NSF’s International Research Program, I have been collaborating with Professor Lodoysamba, my Mongolian research partner, to identify the sources of the pollution, and monitor changes over time.

We are also working to spur public engagement on this critical issue. We have launched a Facebook page and Twitter account to share air quality infographics, current data, and opportunities to get involved with air quality issues in Ulaanbaatar.

Describe your own career path – How did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I fell in love with science, specifically astronomy, when I was a child. I adored books by Carl Sagan, and how he connected big picture topics like the Universe with the activities of tiny humans residing on a speck of dust orbiting a run-of-the-mill ball of gas. During my career, I have studied objects outside of our galaxy, then moved to worlds within our solar system, and now work to better understand issues affecting the atmosphere – and the humans existing in it – here on Earth.

The biggest obstacles I have faced are a lack of self-confidence in my ability and fear of standing out too much. Throughout high school and my undergraduate studies, I would be too afraid to ask a question in class or to speak up with my own ideas. Those sorts of fears keep you from truly learning and engaging with others, which are vital for becoming an expert at anything! These fears can also affect how high you set the bar for your career goals.

Where do science and development intersect?

Science has been transformative for the human condition. For example, in 1850, 25 out of 100 American babies died at birth. As the medical community developed a better understanding of how germs spread, it instituted simple interventions, like hand washing and instrument sterilization, and infant mortality rates plummeted. Today, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is less than 1 in 100, and the world average is around 4 in 100. We have scientific progress to thank for that.

And yet, such a small percentage of the world’s population has the opportunity to pursue a career in science. A 2010 UNESCO study reports that 75% of peer-reviewed scientific papers – the primary vehicle through which science moves forward – are done by those in developed countries, which only represents 20% of the world’s population.

Eighty percent of the world’s population – those in developing countries – experience major barriers to contributing to the scientific community. We’re missing out on a ton of brainpower to help solve some big problems like the inter-related issues of climate change, energy production, and population growth that will require scientific and technical solutions. That’s not just a loss for the developing world, that’s a loss for the entire world.

Digitizing Education

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Catherine Oliver Smith, COO and Co-Founder of Urban Planet Mobile.

How would you describe the work of Urban Planet?

Urban Planet Mobile develops and distributes digital education worldwide, primarily through basic mobile phones that provide English language education. The Urban English™ program design – simple SMS with an embedded audio file – creates the potential of reaching 95% of mobile phones worldwide with life-changing educational content. An English-speaking taxi driver in a tourism-based economy, for example, has the opportunity to earn a greater income than one who can’t speak English.

Students play a mobile game in Kenya. Photo credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

We believe access to quality education is a human right so our focus is to make education readily available to people, with little or no other access, on a device they already own and use. We also ensure affordability by charging micro-payments. Free programs are hard to scale and sustain because there is always a cost to developing and deploying the content. By providing quality, in demand content, people are more inclined to make the small investment for the tangible results education brings.

Urban Planet started with the goal of reaching the most basic phones and helping bring mobile education to the world. Today we are successfully reaching hundreds of thousands of people with our scalable and affordable technology. And this is only the beginning. Through the support of USAID, Urban Planet is testing and evaluating the effectiveness of MobiLiteracy, our 90-day mobile literacy program in Uganda. The intervention is an out of school supplemental program for pre-literate children. It introduces letters, sounds, and common words, and works on developing both listening comprehension and encouraging storytelling and sharing.

Why is language learning critical for development? Is there something about this modality of education that disproportionately benefits women?

Literacy is the basis for learning, but it’s more than that. According to the UNESCO (PDF), in the developing world, the children of literate mothers have a 50% greater chance of surviving past the age of five. Literate communities are generally healthier, less violent, more civically engaged, and more economically strong.

Mobile phones are very personal devices, more so than any other technology device. MobiLiteracy lessons are sent as a basic SMS daily lesson with an audio link. Mothers can open the audio lesson at a convenient time, which could also mean a safe and private time. The lesson can be deleted from the phone, saved, and also shared privately.

While the lessons are generally meant for children, mothers with limited or no literacy can certainly benefit. Parental involvement in education is a proven precursor to success but parents with limited education feel inadequate and ashamed. This program empowers mothers to take an active role.

Where do you see this technology ultimately going over the next several decades? 

The cost for tablets and smartphones will continue to decrease as the competition increases and the capacity of the technology expands. Also, areas with limited or no connection will get connected.

Right now, simple programs that provide for supplemental education make a tremendous impact, but the future is more robust educational programs, widely accessible and available to people currently limited from such programs due to lack of technology and the requisite infrastructure. More and more formal curricula will be created for this digital world.

While censorship and repression inhibit the spread of certain ideas, information, and education, through the use of mobile technologies, marginalized members of society will have unprecedented access to education. It is through education that a more peaceful, healthier, and better world will emerge.

Securing a Better Future Means Knowing Your Past

Jean Geran, Founder & President, Each Inc. Photo credit: Jean Geran

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Everyone loves a good story. Fairy tales take us to faraway lands and help us dream dreams. Horror stories scare us and make us appreciate our own security. The moral of a story can grow our character and teach us valuable principles. But the stories we love most are those that allow us to see new possibilities for our own story. Because the most valuable story for each of us is our own. I was fortunate to have parents who believed in their little girl’s potential and made me feel that I could accomplish anything if I set my mind to it.  A ‘sky’s the limit’ mentality is not always the norm for young women in the United States and often remains unimaginable to women and girls around the world.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I think about the millions of women and girls who hold up half the sky but feel invisible and trapped due to poverty, illiteracy, disease, abuse and other forms of marginalization and deprivation.  At the top of the list of concern are the children, both girls and boys, living in adversity. Alone, scared, and vulnerable, children living outside family care in orphanages, refugee camps, brothels or the streets are the most invisible of all.  No one knows their stories. Often they don’t even know their own. To survive, they must find food, shelter and protection but they often say that their greater struggle is their desire to be known and to belong somewhere. We all wrestle with personal identity. Imagine having nothing to start with.

Because each child has a unique story, I founded a social enterprise called Each Inc. that is developing technology products and services to help both practitioners working directly with children, and governments or researchers interested in aggregate data to improve policies and programs at a macro-level. The girl effect and other related efforts have been successful in raising awareness of the necessity and wisdom of investing in each girl’s future.  To make those investments effectively it helps to know her story.

It’s difficult to find a solution for each child without having their case history data in a timely, usable form. How can you find families for orphans in institutions if you don’t know their family history? How can you safely reunify a trafficked child with their family if you don’t know who they are? Social workers are faced with these kinds of questions every day and the lack of data makes their difficult job even harder.

Improving data and technology systems in this field for practitioners would enable them to make more informed decisions for each child and share information securely for better collaboration. For government officials, particularly in underdeveloped countries, improvements are critical to strengthening child protection systems and to disaggregating data by gender to target assistance appropriately. The U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity includes these goals and I wrote about Each Inc.’s support for this effort here.

We are eager to work with individuals and organizations involved in the identification, care and protection of children. Each child has a story.

Why Women’s Leadership Matters in a Macho World

Gangs are often seen as a problem of boys and men. Historically, communities have focused on men as both perpetrators and victims of gang related crimes, which include assault, kidnapping, extortion, illicit substance and human trafficking, theft, and murder. And to date, the answer has also been a predominantly male approach – police and court systems that focus on penalizing individuals for these crimes.

However, gangs don’t only make boys and men vulnerable; they make communities insecure for girls and women, too. Although the majority of homicide victims and perpetrators are male, there is an alarming trend of girls joining gangs as well as becoming victims of sexual assaults and femicide.

Volunteers of the Youth Movement Against Violence in Guatemala. Photo credit: Creative Associates

Fed up with the violence and driven by a desire for positive change in their communities, women are taking leadership roles to tackle gang violence and crime. Through youth movements, such as Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia (Youth Movement Against Violence)  in Central America, young women are leading efforts and bringing together communities, governments, and youth to form partnerships and find creative solutions.

“I am worried about the alarming situation and of the number of youths that are killed every day, and the impact that the violence has on my family. So I decided to take part in finding a solution,” says Vivien Rueda, one of the founders of Youth Alliance Association in Guatemala City.

The Youth Alliance Association project takes a whole-of-community prevention approach. Through USAID’s outreach centers in high-crime areas, the group helps to provide a safe space for recreational activities and job training for at-risk youth as well as ex-gang members. In order to strengthen a sense of community, the centers are called “Outreach Centers for My Neighborhood,” which is similar to a local, common catch phrase “for my neighbor, for my neighborhood.”

The visibility of youth activism was raised to the national stage in Honduras by Alejandra Hernandez, former head of Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia in Honduras. In addressing the Honduran National Congress, she echoed the frustration of youth, of which 2.3 million are girls: “We are here to say that we are tired of being just observers of the violence in our country, now we want to be actors in the construction of solutions that allow us a safer Honduras.”

Women are unique actors and add value to these crucial conversations. They are instrumental to help achieve peace in their communities by bringing diverse perspectives, mobilize a variety of community actors, and ensure that all citizens have their security concerns heard.

D-Rev – Where Design and Function Meet Need

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Krista Donaldson is CEO of D-Rev. Photo credit: Krista Donaldson

1. D-Rev was recently named a “Most Innovative Company” by Fast Company. What makes the organization and its work so unique?

D-Rev is a non-profit product company that designs and, with partners, delivers market-driven products that improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 per day. What’s unique about D-Rev is that we start from strong values and an obsession with impact. We believe that products can be world-class and affordable at the same time, and we believe in designing for the context of each environment and user, rather than taking a Western product and trying to make it fit where it doesn’t.

We spend a lot of time asking ourselves “Why?” and “How?”  Why can we design artificial limbs sophisticated enough for the Olympic Games, but amputees in India are stuck with prosthetic legs that are so unstable they wear them in the locked position, like a peg leg? Why can we design devices that save babies born months too soon in the West, yet the only treatment for severely jaundiced babies at one of Uganda’s largest hospitals is placing them out in the sun?

We believe that all people deserve products that can improve their health and lives. The desire to spend one’s money on a product or service that brings value and is beautifully designed is universal. We want to revolutionize healthcare in low-income regions by designing products that provide treatment on par with or better than the best products on the market, are context-appropriate, and are radically affordable, costing one-tenth or less of the price of comparable devices.

Finally, we take a globalized approach to design, working with the best partners around the world. We view our local partners not as beneficiaries, but as partners. For example, our partners in India are experts at local distribution channels and supply chains, whereas we bring new technologies (e.g. like the latest LEDs) advanced modeling techniques.

2. You have argued that high-end innovations and technologies should be made accessible and affordable throughout the developing world. Is it possible?

I believe that high quality innovative products can be designed to be affordable and accessible throughout the developing world – so that social impact happens because a customer chooses, purchases, values and uses a product.  Most of the medical devices we see in public hospitals and clinics in low-income parts of the world are donated or heavily subsidized; very few truly meet the needs of the users.  When they break or need repair, they are likely to end up in the corner with a “Broken” sign. We see this time and time again in hospitals around the world. Typically no one in that hospital chose or paid for that device, so there is not much commitment to these donated devices – especially if the product doesn’t meet their needs. I’m also a true believer that beautiful design, functionality and usability doesn’t need to cost extra. Doctors like this design ethic and our approach.

3. What role do women play in the uptake and application of new technologies and innovations?

Women tend to be pragmatists and result-oriented. We see that women are the primary caregivers to the sick and people with disabilities. Among health professionals, we also see a high percentage of women doctors in public hospitals and clinics that serve our target populations.  While obviously the roles of women vary by society, we have observed that women – whether they are doctors, nurses, the patient’s family or even policymakers – tend to focus on end result, not on the latest innovation or product.  The women know that we need healthier babies or we need to help this young amputee get back to school so they only consider and back a product if they believe it will achieve that result. When they see a device like Brilliance or the ReMotion Knee, they grab it because they can envision how this gets them quickly to sending a healthy baby home from the clinic with a new mom, or seeing an amputee earning a paycheck again.

Salma Hayek Pinault Presents CHAMPION Project with Award

Actress and Avon Foundation for Women Ambassador, Salma Hayek Pinault, recently presented the USAID-funded CHAMPION project in Tanzania with one of five Avon Communications Awards: Speaking Out about Violence against Women for its outstanding work to bring attention to the need to end violence against women. The CHAMPION Project, implemented by EngenderHealth  with communications support from FHI360, received the award for their work on the Kuwa Mfano wa Kuigwa (Be a Role Model) mass media campaign. The award recognizes outstanding communications campaigns that are helping change communities, policies, institutions, and behaviors to end violence against women.

The CHAMPION Project’s Kuwa Mfano wa Kuigwa campaign is part of a five-year effort to engage men in Tanzania by increasing their involvement in addressing the underlying gender issues and power imbalances in relationships. The campaign, which was launched in Tanzania in collaboration with the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children in December 2011, aims to turn men from bystanders to champions with its key message, “Violence is everyone’s problem. Be a role model. Earn respect by standing up to violence.”

Watch a TV spot from the award-winning campaign below and learn more.

 

Women Working in Innovation is Not Rocket Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Le-Marie Thompson, from Bowie, Md., won a first place prize of $5,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company. Photo credit: Le-Marie Thompson

My product concept is an electronic component validation tool that companies can use when developing new products. The web-based tool would allow companies to verify if the microelectronic components they source from suppliers are produced using conflict minerals –minerals that are mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. This concept came to being while I was making a decision to change my life path. For over nine years I worked in the telecommunications industry, supporting the development of products and services that solved numerous business challenges.  However, I was restless and could not figure out why. One day in the spring of 2012, I decided that it was time for me to leave my corporate job and figure out something else to do – something that I could be passionate about while still utilizing my skills and experience. I did not know what that would be, but I knew I needed to clear my head first. So I packed up a few things and headed to India to volunteer with street children in New Delhi teaching math, science and English. I came back from India with a renewed sense of the things I cared about when I was a kid – fixing problems and serving others. Those two interests lead me to explore world challenges that may have technical solutions. The first of those challenges I decided to tackle was the issue of conflict minerals being used in electronic components.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Some of the major challenges that I have faced have been internal ones, mainly self-doubt and lack of confidence. My challenges with these emotions hindered me in taking the leaps I wanted to earlier in my career. At that time, I did not have the courage to be bold enough to share my ideas with others. Another challenge I had was accepting that I was a risk taker because in my mind, risk takers did not look like me. As a woman from a conservative immigrant background, I am supposed to be the type that plays it safe. But it helps to have a good support system of fellow entrepreneurs that push– those that encourage me to experiment and make mistakes quickly, so that I can continue to innovate.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the fields of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Organizations can encourage more women to enter these fields by not making it so complicated. Yes, some of what’s done in these fields is technically rocket science, but the disciplines of science and technology do not need to be placed on an unattainable pedestal.   It is not a monumental feat being a woman in these disciplines; in all professional disciplines, there are ups and downs, a core knowledge needs to be gained, and experience comes with time. Earlier exposure to science and technology, like with many other disciplines, will give women more opportunities to see if these fields fits in their life paths. Additionally, organizations should consider moving beyond a “build it and they will come” mentality to a “feed them and they will grow” philosophy.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company.

Saving Mothers: A New Initiative to Address Maternal Mortality

This originally appeared on Smart Global Health

“In Zambia, when women have delivered, we say ‘Oh, you have survived.’” This chilling reminder of the impact of maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa came from Professor Elwyn Chomba, a Zambian government public health official interviewed by CSIS for a new video about the challenges of maternal mortality and a new initiative to address it.

Pregnancy-related deaths remain an acute problem in many places, despite overall global declines in rates of maternal mortality. Every day, nearly 800 women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries. These deaths are largely preventable with interventions and training to prevent or treat complications such as hemorrhage, infection, and obstructed labor, and with increased access to reproductive health services and emergency care.

We traveled to Zambia because it has a disproportionately high rate of maternal mortality – an estimated 440 women dying for every 100,000 live births, which is 20 times higher than the U.S. But Zambia, as well as Uganda, is also the site of a new program, called Saving Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL), designed to reduce maternal mortality by up to 50 percent in selected districts in a year.

SMGL builds on the fact that most maternal deaths result from one or more of three delays: in seeking care, in arriving at a health facility, and in receiving appropriate care. SMGL is working to address those delays by supporting linkages between communities and health facilities through Safe Motherhood Action Groups (SMAGs); by improving communications and transportation in the districts to speed the care and referrals of pregnant women; and by training and hiring health care providers, while improving equipment and standards of care at health facilities.

Although the U.S. government has been a driving force behind SMGL, it is a public-private partnership. The U.S. Agency for International Development leads SMGL for the U.S. Government, in partnership with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Peace Corps, and the Department of Defense.  The other SMGL partners include the governments of Norway, Zambia, and Uganda, the Merck for Mothers program, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Every Mother Counts.

SMGL has generated excitement, but its implementers know that there is no quick fix for reducing maternal mortality. Accordingly, the initiative faces significant challenges to national scale up and to sustainability, and many experts believe that the changes required will take years – not months — to achieve.

Effectively addressing maternal mortality — in Zambia and elsewhere — will demand ongoing commitment, from national governments and international partners– and investments in community awareness, in improving health facilities and transportation, and in expanding women’s access to health services, including family planning programs. As Professor Chomba said, we want to get to a point where “every woman can look forward to labor, and not say, I may die.”

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