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Improving maternal mortality rate in Africa through good design

There's an interesting guest post today on the TED blog about efforts to use human-centered design to reduce mortality rates in the southeast African country of Malawi.

The effort is being driven by Malawi President Joyce Banda. A key part of the proposal is to construct 150 “maternal waiting homes” near clinics where rural women can stay as their due date approaches. By providing housing to expectant moms, Banda and health officials hope more women will give birth at facilities staffed with health providers and equipped to handle complications, instead of in their homes with less-experienced birth attendants. Courtney Martin and John Cary write:

Blueprints for these brick and concrete structures were developed by the Ministry of Health, taking two forms — a 24-bed version and a slightly larger 32-bed structure. Each is projected to cost between $70,000-$80,000, and will be funded by Malawi’s private sector and outside philanthropic support. These waiting homes have the opportunity to become beacons of hope in a country caught between natural beauty and devastating poverty.

But it’s not just bricks-and-mortar that Banda is using to change women’s lives; it’s also a human-centered design for the healthcare system — too long understaffed and disproportionately urban. The Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health & Safe Motherhood, for example, is already training tribal chiefs in the importance of clinic birth for rural women, recognizing that their influence will largely determine what kinds of healthcare options women feel compelled to access. Once the chiefs have encouraged women to get to clinics, they will be met by new community midwives (Banda aims to train over 1,000 by 2014) and training opportunities at the “waiting homes.” Indeed, the Malawian women we interviewed expressed that they would love to gain new skills and knowledge while they wait for their babies to arrive.

Resource-limited settings, like the rural villages of Malawi, seem like unusual places to find this kind of systemic and environmental design. But there are important precedents. For example, the breathtaking Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, designed by MASS Design Group and operated in January 2011 by Partners in Health (PIH).

The post continues with an explanation of how the Butaro Hospital was designed to enhance healing and how such projects, and potentially those in Malawi, could teach the developed world about dignifying design. It's worth reading.

Previously: Stanford alums develop way to review maternal and child health products used in developing nations, How Embrace infant warmers are saving lives in developing nations, A low-cost way to keep premature babies warm and well, Anti-overkill: Low-cost, life-saving medical inventions and Reducing infant mortality rates in developing countries
Photo by DFID - UK Department for International Development

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