Souma Traore, 45, lives with her husband Mahamane and three children in the Bellafarandi district of Timbuktu, a city in Mali located just north of the Niger River on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. A midwife by training, and a public servant at heart, Souma oversaw the maternity ward at the Kabara Community Health Center before being promoted to technical director of the facility. It is for women like Souma that we pause around International Women’s Day to recognize women’s indispensable but often challenging roles in global health.
Kabara was one of the first district health centers selected to participate in implementing MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience activities, which focus on strengthening the capacity of health providers in areas such as voluntary family planning, neonatal obstetric care, immunization, nutrition and managing childhood illness. IMA World Health leads the five-year, USAID-funded MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience project, which is part of a suite of innovative MOMENTUM awards designed to holistically strengthen quality voluntary family planning, reproductive health, and maternal, newborn and child health in host countries around the world.
Souma was eager to collaborate with MOMENTUM because of her passion for her work and its impact on reducing maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. She has participated in all the project’s available trainings on improving the quality of care and services including Reaching Every District/Reaching Every Community (RED/REC), the Kangaroo Mother Care Method and Achieving Family Planning Compliance.
“My personal interest lies in the capacity building that the project does. It helps me a lot to improve my performance,” says Souma. “In addition, it is the only project that works with us in the field of integrated health resilience. We have a special interest in this because we are in a difficult area and need to be resilient.”
Mali can be a challenging environment for health care, especially for women. Maternal, neonatal and infant mortality rates all remain high, as does the fertility rate, while the use of modern contraception remains relatively low. To complicate matters, regions like Timbuktu lack sufficient numbers of health providers, and those that do exist often lack the capacity to guarantee high-quality care and services.
Moreover, women are underrepresented in positions of responsibility within the health centers. In the Timbuktu health district, for example, only 20 percent of the technical directors are women. Since taking on leadership duties, however, Souma has demonstrated impressive success. Her facility has an excellent reputation due to its technical capacity and the organizational practices she has helped put in place. She serves as a role model among her peers in the district.
Souma also enjoys her interactions with clients. As an active member of the local women’s association, she enlivens discussions on health topics during meetings so that women want to attend and learn more about maternal, child and general health services. “In the center, we do awareness sessions for behavior change in hygiene, vaccination, infant and young child feeding [and] on family planning. The process is slow, but … women are increasingly beginning to attend care services for themselves and their children. I am proud to observe this.”
Women are at the heart of MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience not only because of its focus on mothers, newborns and children, but also because its activities are based on the needs expressed by the participants themselves. Once they identify their community priorities for maternal, newborn and child health, as well as for family planning, their input is used to inform the project’s annual work plan and the implementation of activities. Community participation is integral to every phase of the project, and this synergistic approach has proven effective and is highly valued at both the local and national levels.
By partnering with communities, MOMENTUM is already succeeding in Mali. The project involves the entire community in implementing complementary health activities. Teams engage community health associations and community health workers as well as nutrition support groups and crisis and disaster management committees. Wide-ranging activities include strengthening the capacity of the associations to practice good governance, training government officials in relevant technical areas to enhance their performance and responsiveness, and mobilizing communities to strengthen their agility and health resilience.
The results are encouraging. As Souma points out, “I am already seeing an increase in attendance at the health center, and I link it to the advocacy supported by the project. Trust is built, and the cash flow can support the expenses of the health center. This was not the case before.”
Learn more about IMA World Health's commitment to local capacity strengthening alongside the Corus International family.
A version of this story appears on the JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc., website at: https://www.jsi.com/partnering-with-communities-in-mali-to-improve-womens-health/. JSI is a partner with IMA World Health on MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development.