Founders Resiliency Stories:

Safe Motherhood Alliance

A family in Zambia holds one of Safe Motherhood Alliance’s baby delivery kits.

COVID-19 has shown its potential devastating impact around the world, but it is a particular cause for concern throughout Africa as it could have disastrous impacts on the continent’s already strained health systems, quickly turning into a social and economic emergency.

In response, yher Africa alumni venture Safe Motherhood Alliance is continuing to manufacture and distribute emergency baby delivery kits for home births while also pivoting to manufacture 3D printed face masks and visors, and distributing other essential medical supplies across COVID-19 hot-spot zones throughout Zambia. 

“Our target is to distribute 5,000 baby delivery kits to 5,000 pregnant women and train 100 traditional birth attendants during this period as part of our ongoing services as COVID-19 puts an already overburdened health system under immense pressure.” yher Africa alumni and Safe Motherhood Alliance’s CEO, Muzalema Mwanza remarked.

The yher Africa team spoke with Safe Motherhood Alliance’s CEO, Muzalema Mwanza about  the impact of the pandemic on their venture, how Safe Motherhood Alliance is providing emergency maternity care and distributing health products for expecting mothers across Zambia, and their vision for a world beyond COVID-19.

How has COVID-19 affected Safe Motherhood Alliance?

Due to COVID-19 being highly infectious, obstetric providers are having to reinvent maternity care in real time to protect the mother, baby as well as themselves. As face-to-face encounters in health facilities are being discouraged, it’s more important than ever to ensure the safety of the mother, the  newborn and especially health personnel to avoid transmissions of the virus to newborns during childbirth in resource-constrained areas. Last mile health services in current situations are usually underfunded and under-resourced, leaving the virus to spread easily in these communities, and pregnant women are more at risk. The health facilities do not have enough face masks and visors to prevent the spread in the already overburdened health facilities. From what we’ve seen with the incubation of the virus, symptoms start when one has already become infectious to the general population.

With our work in the field, we are seeing in real time how health personnel and some of our own staff members do not have adequate supplies of PPE. We  have realized that we have a deficit of masks to the point that medical personnel are also at risk of contracting the virus and are concerned about the burden they will bear in the next few months when the crisis reaches its peak.


What support is Safe Motherhood Alliance providing to those affected by COVID-19?

Zambia, as with the rest of the world, is ill prepared for this crisis with a deficit of face masks, ventilators and mass testing that could help mitigate this crisis before it reaches its peak. In addition, COVID-19 dangerously affects pregnant women which is our area of expertise as our organization is responsible for ensuring that pregnant women have a safe childbirth. 

Our focus on pregnant women and trained birth attendants during the COVID-19 pandemic is vitally important because experience tells us that during health crises like the spread of the coronavirus: women are more likely to be infected, given their roles as caregivers and frontline healthcare workers (70% of them are women) and sexual and reproductive health resources are diverted, contributing to higher maternal mortality rates. 

in response, we are raising funding that will help us procure medical supplies of essential products for the readiness package to be deployed across the COVID-19 hot-spot zones and epi-centre in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, to train more frontline health workers already in our database. We will ensure they have adequate PPE and emergency kits for home births specifically for the baby delivery kit that includes medical supplies such as sterile gloves, surgical blades and delivery mats, and manufacturing 3D printed face masks and visors locally in Zambia to reduce costs and mitigate disruption to our supply chain.

We also intend to provide contact tracing in communities for those who test positive for COVID-19 especially for post-birth analysis in pregnant women. This is a practical solution that can be managed locally, relieving pressure from national facilities who would struggle to cope under sustained pressure. Our target is to distribute 5,000 baby delivery kits to 5,000 pregnant women and train 100 traditional birth attendants during this period as part of our ongoing services as COVID-19 puts an already overburdened health system under immense pressure.

What have been the challenges you’ve faced?

One of the challenges we have faced during this period is finding resources and funding for our business to adapt quickly enough to COVID-19 as it is moving at an exponential rate. This is a concern because we know that pregnancy changes the immune system of the woman making her more vulnerable to infectious diseases, hence more susceptible to a virus of COVID-19’s nature. So we want to work quickly.

Our primary customers, who are pregnant women are depending on us even more now with travel restrictions, social distancing and other issues brought on by the pandemic, so we want to ensure we are able to support them during this process. Pregnant women are being advised not to go to the health facilities, because of COVID-19 for safety and are encouraged to have home births. However, without access to sterile tools and a trained birth attendant, we could see the number of neonatal and maternal mortalities start to rise in the coming months or weeks.


What are the key ingredients for successfully overcoming challenges?

One of the key ingredients for successfully overcoming challenges is having a strong sense of why you are doing something, because that is what will hold you to be steadfast even when things are not going your way. Also, realising that success is a process and not an event, that way you are continuously learning and growing as an entrepreneur and a leader in your organisation. But first you have to learn to lead yourself, into the right spaces, to make the right decisions for yourself, because no one knows better than you what you need to succeed and you have it all inside you. You just have to believe in yourself and your abilities.


How have you been able to adapt so fast in the face of a pandemic?

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and when I saw the devastating effects it had on the rest of the world, I realised that this was the new normal and we had to adapt to it. So we set in motion, a clear road map of how we wanted to do that and reached out to our partners  so they knew what we were planning. So planning and reacting to the situation accordingly did help and, of course, there were times when I felt that it was all too much especially hearing the stories of what was happening around us. But that’s where we need a good support system who knows and knows your strengths and weaknesses so that you can depend on that system in times of uncertainty.


What does a post COVID-19 world look like for Safe Motherhood Alliance?

We are continuing to work during the pandemic delivering our health services and are hopeful that we will continue to do so for a long time, because the need is still there and heightened now due to COVID-19. We are working on ways to deal with it and take care of our staff, families, customers and communities. Despite all the bad news that we hear about the pandemic, there are also stories of hope, stories of people coming together and finding their “Ubuntu” and joining hands to help a neighbour struggling with something or even a complete stranger because they recognise that “this too shall pass”. And yes, the numbers of those we have lost to the pandemic keep rising everyday, but I am optimistic about the future of humanity. So I know our venture will adapt or even pivot to ensure it is future ready proof and we will continue serving the mothers out there, because we are here to support them during pregnancy and childbirth to have healthy babies.

Safe Motherhood Alliance develops and distributes health products to pregnant women from low-income communities and rural areas. We also train and equip local women from the communities who are traditional birth attendants to serve as frontline health workers. 

Visit Safe Motherhood Alliance website here.

Safe Motherhood Alliance was a participant in the yher Africa 2018 Program.