On January 9, in an event that sparked high levels of interest, the CSIS Global Health Policy Center convened a conference focused on the first phase results and lessons learned from the Saving Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL) Initiative. By 11:00am, #SMGL was the number one trending topic in Washington, DC.
A five-year, $200 million public-private partnership, SMGL was launched by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 with the aim of reducing maternal mortality by up to 50 percent in selected districts of Uganda and Zambia. CSIS framed the event around the question: reflecting on the first phase results, what is needed to make SMGL scalable and sustainable?
The event featured senior representatives from the U.S. government and the governments of Uganda and Zambia, as well as from Merck for Mothers, one of the partner organizations. Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator, gave the keynote address, and Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), delivered the closing address.
The first panel featured representatives from governments hosting SMGL: Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, Director General of the Uganda Ministry of Health, and Dr. Caroline Phiri, Director of Maternal and Child Health at the Zambia Ministry of Community Development. In an interactive session, both described the successes and challenges of SMGL in its first year, and how their respective governments plan to bring SMGL to scale and make it sustainable for the long-term. Despite the many challenges ahead, Dr. Aceng summarized the urgency of tackling maternal mortality: “Let us not focus on the amount of money that is spent on these interventions, but rather let’s focus on the numbers of lives saved to make the world better.”
During the second panel, U.S. agency partners, Ms. Tracy Carson (PEPFAR) and Mr. Robert Clay (USAID) sat alongside private sector representative Dr. Naveen Rao (Merck for Mothers) to speak to the importance of partnership to achieve SMGL’s ambitious goal —a goal that, according to Carson, went from “inspirational to aspirational to almost attainable.”
A small CSIS team traveled to Zambia in March 2012 with U.S. Congressional staff to see first-hand the progress that SMGL was making on the ground (Click here to read Strengthening U.S. Investments in Women's Global Health). This followed a previous CSIS trip to Zambia in December 2011 that produced a video about maternal mortality in Zambia, focusing on SMGL.
Roll-out of the SMGL initiative was fast and furious, in an effort to show dramatic impact in one year. While SMGL has been both praised and criticized for doing so much so quickly, a 30 percent decrease in maternal mortality in target districts in just one year reflects the impact that can be achieved.
What happens next? Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, Director of the CSIS Global Health Policy Center, reflected that this has been a “…complex and compressed set of experiences in a remarkably short period of time. Unpacking that is very important and a very interesting exercise.” As SMGL enters Phase 2, it will be critical to demonstrate that the lessons learned in Phase 1 will shape the next steps. As Dr. Frieden laid out, “This year was a proof of principle and now the challenge is threefold: ...to optimize and expand…to fully address contraceptive services…and to continue to kindle the flame.”