Innovations in Maternal and Newborn Healthcare

By Colin Azavedo, Marketing Consultant, KPMG IDAS

Innovations in Maternal and Newborn Healthcare

In a recent breakfast meeting held in Kenya by the Innovation Challenge Fund for the private sector, the technical partner of the Fund, Population Council, revealed a startling fact:

Up to 287,000 women die around the globe each year during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period – largely due to access to skilled routine and emergency obstetric care.

The reality is that about 800 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications around the world every day. Almost all maternal deaths (99%) occur in developing countries (WHO, et., al, 2014).

The situation in child mortality has improved over the last decades, but also remains a great area of concern. The main causes of neonatal deaths as presented are below:

When the causes of high maternal and newborn mortality rates are assessed by experts, they can be summarized by the well known 3 Delays i.e.

Delays in the decision to seek healthcare during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum periods. This lack of decision is related to many issues such as trust, cultural practice, religious views, literacy and affordability among others. It is not uncommon in rural Kenya for a pregnant mother not to visit the clinic because of the necessity to perform household chores, or spouse views, or the need to take care of children.

Delays in being able to reach healthcare during the same periods. This delay relates to issues such as there being not enough health facilities nearby, and potentially long distances from home to the health facilities or doctors, exacerbated by poor transport networks and roads, rains, security challenges and so on. It also relates to issues of affordability to travel or ability to leave ones home and household or family duties for an extended period for example.

Delays in the ability to access quality healthcare during pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum periods. Many rural people trek long distances to health centres only to find long queues and few doctors, staff or medicines available. Beds or Food are challenges too. Extended issues relate to lack of power, water and other facilities at these clinics and health centres.

Many of these issues are being addressed at national levels by government agencies. In Kenya, there is a concerted effort being made by the central government working with county governments as part of its devolution strategy to address the delays. However, this has been varied success to date. Some counties have made great leaps forward in terms of facilities, staff training and audience education. Others have made smaller, less clear steps. So is the private sector part of the solution?

Along with public sector initiatives in Kenya, there are also several promising NGO led and private initiatives – such as the personal project of the First Lady in regards to her Beyond Zero campaign on mobile clinics, or that of health monitoring or information dissemination through mobile phone such as provided by Totohealth. The reality is that real innovation is taking place across sectors including healthcare, and in organizations motivated by the need for a competitive edge and sustainable business success. What is needed now is for these organisations to not just be commercially focused but also to aim to make a difference in the lives of the disenfranchised. However, to achieve this, some kind of carrot is needed for the organisations, to bear some of the initial risk of proving their innovations can work and have the legs to make a significant difference if scaled up – and be commercially viable.

It is with this background that U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) has provided £16 million for a 7 year programme in Kenya, aimed at incentivising innovative projects from non-state actors in this sector. The County Innovation Challenge Fund has the objective of increasing access to and utilisation of quality maternal and newborn health services by a) Strengthening health systems to manage and deliver quality maternal and newborn health services and b) Increasing demand for quality maternal and newborn health services.

The Fund initiative is focused on six particularly susceptible counties in Kenya – Bungoma, Garissa, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Nairobi (Embakasi and Kamukunji) and Turkana. Each of these counties has their own unique set of challenges and indeed opportunities for improvements in the health care of mothers and newborns. While focus is on these counties, any global, regional or local organisations can apply for funding, as long as their project is based in one or more of the target counties.

A combined positive impact in these counties from supported projects would significantly reduce mortality rates in Kenya as a whole, and act as a role model for other counties, organisations and programme initiatives.

The County Innovation Challenge Fund has two current funding opportunities seeking innovations in maternal and newborn healthcare. One is in an Innovation Competition that aims to unearth new, untried innovations addressing one or more of the 3 delays in any of the counties mentioned. The other is a Scaling Competition seeking more tried and tested innovations that can be replicated in other counties, or that can be scaled up to cover more areas of maternal and newborn health care for example.

To be eligible to apply, the organisation must be legally registered and in operation for at least 2 years and its project must be aimed at benefiting women of reproductive age, particularly poor rural women and adolescent girls, and County and sub county health management teams, health facilities and community units in the selected counties. The Fund will consider applications from international, national and community based non-governmental, faith based and civil society organisations/institutions; academic and research institutions; innovation hubs and the private sector.

Funding available is grant based, and ranges to up to £250,000 for a ‘winning’ project in the Innovation Competition to £1,000,000 for one in the Scaling Competition. Only the most innovative and sustainable solutions will win. The funds are disbursed gradually over 21 months against achievement of set milestones. The deadline for entries in either Fund competition has been extended to August 15, 2015. For more information or to register and apply, visit or email

The County Innovation Challenge Fund is managed by a team under the MANI project funded by U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) supporting the Government of Kenya’s efforts to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. The MANI Project is led by Options Consultancy Services Limited, KPMG International Development Advisory Services is the Fund Manager and Population Council is the Fund Technical Manager.

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