Being bold for change - ensuring the health of pregnant women
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. At Palladium, we recognise and celebrate those women making a bold contribution to their countries and communities in the field. Thanks to their knowledge and expertise, we are able to collectively drive Positive Impact in the countries in which we work. As Team Leader on our Maternal Newborn and Child Health (MNCH2) programme in Nigeria, Dr Salma Anas-Kolo is one woman making a difference.
Q. Tell us about your background – how did you enter the industry and come to work with Palladium?
I was driven by a passion to help women and children in my community, particularly after growing up in Borno in the North East of Nigeria. In Borno, the literacy rate is very low for women, with many women dying as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. I also witnessed very high rates of childhood illness, and observed children dying as a result of entirely preventable diseases.
After undertaking my medical studies, I began working as a doctor and Public Health Specialist in State and Federal Health Institutions in Nigeria. I worked on various public health projects, with a focus on malaria control and HIV/AIDS. I also worked with a range of organisations including the UNFPA, WHO and the National Aids Control Agency.
Considering the poor MNCH indices and trends in Nigeria, I decided to work in the area of Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health. Before joining the MNCH2 programme, I was working with the Federal Ministry of Health as the Director for Special Projects, where I established and coordinated the health sector response to the humanitarian crisis across the country. A significant proportion of the beneficiaries were women and children affected by the crisis.
Q. You’re currently the National Team Leader for the DFID funded Maternal Newborn and Child Health programme. What does the project and role entail?
MNCH2 is a five year programme (2014-2019) funded by the UK Government. The project works to reduce maternal and child mortality and morbidity in Northern Nigeria (where maternal and under-five mortality rates are the highest in the country) by strengthening health systems and empowering communities.
As Team Leader I have overall responsibility for programme coordination to ensure MNCH2 achieves its goals and objectives. I provide strategic guidance and direction in line with both national priorities and donor requirements, as well as ensuring financial standards and effective procurement processes.
Perhaps most importantly, I lead our engagement with relevant stakeholders as diverse as government (at all levels), civil society organisations, community leaders, and religious leaders. This is crucial to the sustainability of the project. I also play a critical role in establishing links with other development projects to create synergy, learning and leverage additional resources and opportunities to enhance quality delivery in the health sector.
Q. Why is this particular programme important to you?
MNCH2 is a transformative project contributing significantly to the reduction of maternal deaths and improvement of child survival in Northern Nigeria, and the country in general. The project reaches vulnerable and economically disadvantaged populations of women and children, mainly in rural communities. Rates of maternal deaths and infant mortality are the highest in the north of Nigeria – where MNCH2 operates.
The programme also promotes greater community engagement between women and families, traditional birth attendants, community leaders, facility health committees and health facilities. Working at community level helps to ensure communities are empowered to make informed decisions about health access and services.
One of our initiatives is the Safe Space Intervention –Young Women’s Support Group, which is a key platform to reach young women in our target states. These groups are designed to create safe and confidential environments for young married women (aged 15-25) to discuss issues that are often both personally and culturally sensitive. Through modular lessons, the groups are equipped with skills to improve their marital and familial relationships, to make better decisions about their families, take control of their healthcare, and learn life-skills.
Q. What are the rewards of working on this programme?
The biggest reward is definitely seeing the positive impact our work has on the lives of vulnerable women and children. The project is making a great difference by strengthening health systems and empowering communities to demand services. I’m proud to be a part of that.