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Story and Perspective

A Bold Partnership Dramatically Reduced the Deaths of Mothers

Lois Quam

Uganda Nigeria

In 2011, I was heading President Barack Obama’s signature Global Health Initiative at the Department of State. Reporting directly to Secretary Hillary Clinton, I felt compelled to use my past experience as a CEO of a FORTUNE 50 corporation to address a global challenge that inspired me professionally and personally: saving mothers’ lives.

It was an extraordinary moment in history. The New York Times had just reported on a crisis in maternal health in Uganda. Women were dying when their deaths could have been prevented. The situation was deeply disturbing—and motivating for our team. No vaccine, no drug alone could solve this problem. Women need quality services. They need integrated health and community systems that work in real time.

A Challenge Accepted

Less than a year later, Secretary Clinton launched Saving Mothers, Giving Life to test an integrated health systems approach to dramatically reduce maternal and child death in three sub-Saharan African countries—Uganda, Zambia, and Nigeria. Our team set an audacious goal of decreasing maternal deaths by 50% in targeted districts.

I knew this target would be tough to achieve, and I embraced it. I believe that audacious goals inspire new solutions and force long-standing silos to be torn down.

Tearing Down Silos to Save Lives

With committed leaders and strong public health agencies, the US government had much to offer. We needed partners to bring complementary strength and dedication to form a super team of public, private, and NGO leaders focused on accelerating reductions in maternal mortality:

The governments of Uganda, Zambia, and Nigeria provided true partnership and leadership to deliver quality, lifesaving care and strengthen health systems at the district level.
The government of Norway’s focus on agility and results was key.
Merck for Mothers brought robust operational and business expertise.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists leveraged its powerful networks and clinical reputation and capacity in systems strengthening and training.
Every Mother Counts kept a clear focus on the needs and rights of the women herself and built a greater public presence.
Project C.U.R.E. provided much-needed medical equipment and supplies.

Today, I continue to be impressed by how well the Saving Mothers, Giving Life team has worked together, leveraging strengths, experience, methodologies, and resources of each partner to achieve strong results. This was clear to me in my recent visit to Nigeria.

In Nigeria, My New Perspective on a Successful Partnership

Now, as President and CEO of Pathfinder, I get to see Saving Mothers, Giving Life activities firsthand in Cross River State, Nigeria, where Pathfinder is a lead implementer. Here, we work to strengthen linkages between private and public systems and offer women and their families a total market response that saves lives.

This means improving delivery outcomes in public, faith-based, and private-for-profit health facilities. It means women are supported at every point—through pregnancy and delivery.

When I visit facilities, I see public and private providers sharing the same referral system. And I meet women as they access comprehensive, lifesaving care. This includes full options for family planning.

By working together—as NGOs, governments, corporations, and communities—we push ourselves further.

For women like Hadiza Hamisu, who live in remote communities in rural Nigeria, accessing a health facility for safe delivery is extremely difficult. Pathfinder and our partners are working to close this gap.

The Future is Up to Us

Six years after the launch of Saving Mothers, Giving Life, I remain deeply committed to this work. I am energized by women we serve, the families kept whole, and the knowledge that the world’s toughest challenges can be solved if we work together boldly.

When it comes to saving women’s lives and achieving health for all, we have to be all in.

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