Friday, November 9, 2007

Wharton MBA Students Volunteer for Maternal and Neonatal Health in Kenya

Wharton students with MNH clients and staff.

In August 2007, Katie Vahle, Emily Rizza, and Joyce Liao, three MBA candidates at Wharton, visited HealthRight International’s (formerly Doctors of the World-USA) Partnership for Maternal and Neonatal Health project in Kenya in order to identify and recommend methods to increase utilization of health services by women in the West and North Pokot districts, where HealthRight is working with local providers to improve survival rates for women and children in childbirth.   

What was the purpose of your trip to Kenya?
KV, ER & JL: The West Pokot and North Pokot regions of Kenya suffer from alarmingly high rates of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. We traveled to Kenya to identify ways to improve the quality of maternal and neonatal health through encouraging more women to utilize the services provided by local health care institutions.
What do you think is the greatest challenge to maternal and newborn health in West Pokot?
KV, ER & JL: One of the greatest challenges is to deconstruct long-held attitudes toward the relative importance of maternal health and to change long-practiced traditions of where and how women receive their healthcare. We need to encourage women to utilize the services of the health facilities rather than relying on care from untrained attendants or ignoring health issues altogether and doing nothing.
What are some of your recommendations for ways to help encourage women to use facility-based delivery services?
KV, ER & JL: We believe a voucher system is a great way to encourage use of facility-based delivery services because it addresses many of the major drivers of current behavior that ultimately lead women to decide to deliver at home. We have recommended that HealthRight learn from previously implemented output-based aid schemes to tailor a voucher system to the issues specific to the West Pokot and North Pokot regions of Kenya. Unique to our voucher system is the incorporation of a mechanism to address the difficulties arising from transportation in the region.
Is putting a voucher or incentive system in place enough to get people to use it? What should be done to ensure that women actually participate in services that are offered?
KV, ER & JL: It will be vital to educate people on the existence of this new program as well as the benefits of improving the quality of the region’s health facilities. Support from community leaders such as chiefs, churches, and senior members of the community is important.
What has been the impact of what you’ve seen so far on your understanding of global health?
KV, ER & JL: This project gave us the opportunity to experience firsthand how non-profit initiatives can quite successfully apply many of the concepts and best practices that we are learning in business school from a for-profit perspective. In general, this trip has reinforced the importance of considering ex-US perspectives. Each country has a unique health care infrastructure and if you want to change behaviors, it is crucial to understand the needs and motivations of all the players, from government agencies down through the end-user.