Testing innovations to break through Maternal Health bottlenecks during COVID-19 and beyond

By Linda Nyemba

Past participants at a WFP innovation bootcamp in collaboration with UNFPA.

Although there has been important progress in maternal health over the last decades, approximately 810 women still die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for adolescent girls (15–19 years old) globally. The rate of change is not fast enough, and with COVID-19 upending many existing programmes, innovative partnerships and solutions are needed more than ever.

In 2019, UNFPA Innovation partnered with the WFP Innovation Accelerator for a bootcamp focused on innovative approaches to end unmet need for family planning. The two organizations are collaborating again this year from 8–12 June with a new focus — Maternal Health — and a new location — virtually.

From Bangladesh, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Panama, Rwanda, Timor-Leste, and Uganda, the 9 UNFPA country teams will test different innovations to address key bottlenecks that prevent women and girls from having equitable access to comprehensive maternal and newborn care.

Photo: @UNFPApanama

UNFPA Panama

Problem: Due to COVID-19, indigenous women in Panama are accessing sexual and reproductive health services and giving birth in clinics significantly less.

Solution: Leverage culturally-accessible digital solutions to inform about COVID-19 and promote self-care with Ngöbe women and girls.

Photo: Roderick T.J. Buiskool/ UNFPA Timor-Leste

UNFPA Timor-Leste

Problem: Timor-Leste’s rugged terrain makes it hard for pregnant women to reach facilities when emergencies occur, and for midwives to access follow-up training.

Solution: Explore how virtual reality can help midwives maintain life-saving skills and learning in last-mile communities.

UNFPA Nicaragua

Problem: With COVID-19, pregnant women may miss vital health care visits, increasing their risk of undetected complications.

Solution: Provide pregnant women in Nicaragua with access to remote prenatal care during COVID-19 and beyond.

Photo: @UNFPAUganda

UNFPA Uganda

Problem: Financial barriers that women and their partners in low- and middle-income countries face when preparing for pregnancy and life with a new child.

Solution: Build an innovative financing model that combines behavioural insights and gamification to encourage family savings for maternal health costs.

UNFPA Equatorial Guinea

Problem: Like many countries with high maternal mortality, Equatorial Guinea has a need for more specialized providers to manage obstetric emergencies.

Solution: Design 24/7 remote expert clinical support to staff on the ground to improve maternal health.

Photo: M&J Kotsopoulos 2009
Photo: UNFPA Egypt


Problem: For pregnant women in rural Siwa, maternal health care facilities are often more than 300 km away.

Solution: Bridge the gap and connect skilled care closer to women in rural communities.

UNFPA Rwanda

Problem: Sustainable and cost-effective continuous professional development is a priority for Rwanda’s health sector, especially given COVID-19.

Solution: Build gamified and scalable low-tech to enhance skills for saving mother and newborn lives.

Mugisha Philippe at work, Kibagabaga Hospital. Photo: UNFPA, May 2020
Photo: UNFPA Mozambique

UNFPA Mozambique

Problem: Delays in reaching health care facilities in rural Mozambique is a bottleneck in obtaining life-saving maternal health care care.

Solution: Co-create a safe, on-demand ride-hailing platform to connect pregnant women with reliable transport options in remote communities.

UNFPA Bangladesh

Problem: In Bangladesh, less than 50 percent of all deliveries take place in health care facilities, due to factors such as high potential costs, fear of surgery, and different delays.

Solution: Apply design thinking to solve referral challenges for the urban poor to access emergency obstetric newborn care.

Photo: @UNFPABangladesh

Join the conversation on Twitter at @UNFPAInnovation and learn more about UNFPA’s innovation mission.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: http://innovation.wfp.org

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