Since 1990, the world has seen a dramatic 44 percent reduction in maternal mortality. This is a tremendous success story in international development. Despite this progress maternal mortality remains an urgent health crisis in many low and middle income countries.
Every year approximately 300,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and 99 percent of those deaths occur in developing countries.1 Many of these deaths are preventable. Simple interventions and skilled care before, during, and after childbirth can save lives.
USAID’s Health Research Program seeks to reduce maternal mortality by collaborating closely with partner countries, community programs, and health facilities to apply research learnings that address critical health needs. USAID is continually employing its knowledge of program implementation to inform how interventions will be used and which interventions are most needed to inform research priorities. This integrated approach reduces gaps in access to care during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. In addition, the program expands evidence-based interventions for mothers and improves health outcomes for women. The Health Research Program seeks to do this by focusing on research related to illness recognition and careseeking, respectful maternity care, and performance-based incentives for quality of care.
Delayed access to care for maternal complications during or after labor can be a major factor contributing to mortality. In order to address this issue, the Health Research Program conducted studies to explore recognition of illnesses and care seeking patterns for both maternal and newborn complications. This work is essential to understanding barriers to recognition and care-seeking, identifying the primary decision-makers, and general care-seeking patterns and processes for both maternal and neonatal illness. Ultimately this research will lead to policy changes that improve access to and quality of services for women, leading to generalizable results with global relevance.
Emerging evidence indicates that, all too often, women face humiliating and undignified conditions in health facilities. The Health Research Program seeks to decrease, and eventually eliminate, disrespect and abuse during facility-based childbirth. As a result of USAID-funded research, Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, and Nigeria integrated respectful maternity care (RMC) into national policy standards of maternal care and training of providers. This research will lead to better defining, describing, addressing, and advocating for improved facility-based childbirth services and infrastructure.
Performance-Based Incentive programs in developing countries have focused on expanding access and coverage of services and addressing issues of equity. The ultimate goal of this implementation research effort is to anticipate and help program implementers address quality of care in the context of these programs. The vision of this research recognizes that some of the current performance based incentive programs do not yet address quality, but as new programs are developed or refined, quality will be essential to the sustainability of these programs which support maternal and newborn care.
To learn more about how the Health Research Program works to improve maternal health, please visit our project pages. You can also find more information about USAID’s overall efforts to improve maternal health here.