Project #8837

Maternal Mortality Reduction Project with PIH

by Partners In Health (PIH)
Photo credit: bec rollins
Photo credit: bec rollins

Patient Profile: Risking Death to Give Life

When Parters In Health/Lesotho (PIH/L) staff found Matsepiso (pictured above), she had barely survived 36 hours of obstructed labor at home without a skilled health care provider. Her pelvis was broken, her baby was dead, and she had developed an obstetric fistula—an abnormal opening—which not only prevented her from moving, but also caused her partner to reject her. Matsepiso was alone, and her life was ruined at age 19.

What Matsepiso needed was a proper hospital with surgeons, an operating theater and anesthesia, antibiotics and a blood bank, but there was no such thing anywhere near her village.  After complicated negotiations with hospitals closer to Lesotho, PIH/L was able to arrange for free treatment in an Ethiopian hospital (an 8 hour trip by plane), where she remained for treatment for one year.

Matsepiso returned to her village and has since given birth to a healthy baby.  Furthermore, she joined our team of community health workers, working with PIH/L to provide high-quality maternal care to prevent such injuries from happening again. 

We cannot afford to medevac every woman who needs it, but we equally can’t afford for mothers to die in delivery, orphaning their other children to be raised—or not—by someone else.   This is why Partners In Health works to improve the system that failed Matsepiso, by make it safer for women to give birth in the first place: by offering family planning services and comprehensive pre- and postnatal care, by getting women to clinics to deliver their babies, and by providing access to emergency obstetrical care so when a narrow young woman like Metsepiso is in difficulty, a doctor can intervene, save her life and save her child.

Photo Credit: Susan Sayers
Photo Credit: Susan Sayers

Dear Partners In Health Supporter,

Please accept our heartfelt gratitude for your partnership in preventing maternal deaths in the rural, mountainous communities where we work in Lesotho.  Below, please find an update on the Maternal Mortality Reduction Project that we recently published in our quarterly newsletter. As always, please be in touch with any questions that you have about our work. 

**Tomorrow, June 12, is a GlobalGiving bonus day!  All donations made through GlobalGiving tomorrow only will be matched at 50% (the maximum level -- awarded only to the organizations with the Superstar rewards level status!).  Help us to save more lives by spreading the word and by giving your gift tomorrow. Thank you!


For many people living in rural Lesotho, reaching a health clinic takes an hours-long hike through mountains. For pregnant women, the journey is even more daunting.

But more than two years ago, PIH/Lesotho (PIH/L) began a program to prevent maternal deaths by making high-quality care accessible to women during pregnancy, in childbirth, and after delivery. Since then, the program has expanded to all seven clinics PIH/L serves, with dramatic results. Since the beginning of the program, more than 2,800 babies have been delivered at PIH/L-supported health clinics. From 2010 to 2012, the use of family planning has increased by more than 65 percent, and 25 percent more women and children have received care to prevent the spread of HIV from mother to child.

The comprehensive program centers on maternal health workers who make regular home visits to find pregnant women and accompany them to clinics for antenatal care and delivery. PIH/L has also established seven mothers’ waiting houses. Now, women in labor can avoid an hours-long walk to a clinic and be close to care when labor starts. PIH/L Country Director Dr. Hind Satti said the entire staff, from drivers to nurse midwives, are committed to preventing maternal deaths.

“We are not going to accept any maternal deaths,” said Dr. Satti. “We all started with that spirit—that there is no reason a woman should die during pregnancy or giving birth.”

Meriam Sesiu Kopeli, Nohana Clinic Site Director
Meriam Sesiu Kopeli, Nohana Clinic Site Director

In February, Partners In Health's Multimedia Director Bec Rollins traveled to Lesotho, where she had the opportunity to visit PIH-L sites and meet women enrolled in the Maternal Mortality Reduction Project, as well as Maternal Health Workers.  I hope that you enjoy Bec's beautiful photographs of some of these women and their babies -- who have access to high-quality pre and postnatal care thanks to your support of the MMRP. Please find descriptions of each photo below.  

1) (Above) February 4, 2013, Nohana, Lesotho, Nohana Clinic Site Director Meriam Sesiu Kopeli holds a healthy baby boy, delivered moments prior to the capture of this photo. The baby is the 5th child of a woman who was accompanied to the clinic on this morning by PIH Maternal Health Worker, Malineo Sethobane Lipeneng. Lipeneng lives in the same village as the mother of the baby, abouy 15 minutes from the clinic, and has attended all 5 of the woman's pregnancies.  

In order below:

2) February 4, 2013, Nohana, Lesotho, Malineo Sethobane Lipeneng is a Maternal Mortality Reduction Program worker - also known as Maternal Health Worker - who brought a woman from a village about 15 minutes away to the clinic on this morning to deliver her 5th child. Lipeneng attended all 5 of the woman's pregnancies. On this day a healthy baby boy was born.

3) February 4, 2013, Bobete, Lesotho, Women and their infants wait for postnatal care visits at thh PIH funded Bobete Clinic. Women raising their hands in this photo are those who work with Maternal Health Workers and delivered their babies at the Bobete clinic.  

4) February 4, 2013, Bobete, Lesotho, Tebatea Taka and her mother (left) wait for postnatal care at the PIH funded Bobete Clinic. Tebatea was born on 01.26.13. Her mother carried her to Bobete from the village of Mpokochela. Baby girl Letsaba Molokhene is held by her mother Masetsaba (RIGHT) as they also wait for their postnatal appointment. Letsaba was born on 01.11.13. The family lives in the village of Mpokochela. Letsaba's mother was accompanied to the Bobete clinic to deliver by a PIH Maternal Health Worker.  

5) February 4, 2013, Nohana, Lesotho, Maternal Mortality Reduction Program workers - also known as Maternal Health Workers - gather for their weekly meeting at the PIH funded Nohana Clinic. 

Malineo Sethobane Lipeneng, MMRP Worker
Malineo Sethobane Lipeneng, MMRP Worker
Postnatal care in Bobete
Postnatal care in Bobete
Maternal Health Workers
Maternal Health Workers
Community Health Worker training session, Lesotho
Community Health Worker training session, Lesotho

In September of 2012, Dr. Hind Satti and the Partners In Health Lesotho team published a paper in PLoS One (an international online journal) on the Maternal Mortality Reduction Project.  Please take a minute to read a summary of this paper below, written by Christian Hague of Partners In Health:

Lesotho Maternal Mortality Reduction Program Results

Background: In the mountain regions of Lesotho, women must often travel hours or even days by foot to access medical care. This lack of access leads many pregnant women to deliver their babies at home, far from the life-saving care of a medical facility. As a result, there are 1,155 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, giving Lesotho one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world.[1] One in every 31 women in Lesotho will die in childbirth at some point during her life. [2] Women in Lesotho have an average of 3.3 children, so each maternal death contributes to an orphan crisis with an estimated 200,000 orphans out of a population of 970,000 children under age 18.1

To more aggressively and effectively prevent maternal deaths in Lesotho, PIHL and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare began the Maternal Mortality Reduction Program (MMRP) in 2009. The MMRP aims to expand access to facility-based prenatal care and delivery by conducting active outreach to pregnant women in the communities PIHL serves. The backbone of the MMRP is a team of community health workers who accompany women throughout their pregnancy, ensure that they attend prenatal appointments, and encourage them to deliver their babies at the health center. These community health workers are rigorously trained, supervised, and receive regular training updates and monthly performance-based pay for their work.

The Status Quo in Global Health: In many remote regions around the world, maternal health is provided only at local health centers, which may be several hours’ walk for many pregnant women who need care. The lack of community-based follow-up in many of these poor communities causes women to deliver their children at home, where they are more vulnerable to poor outcomes or death as a result of a complicated pregnancy or delivery.

How PIH is Innovating: A recent publication by Dr. Hind Satti and others showed that, after establishing the MMRP at Bobete health center, PIHL made great progress in getting women to the health center for prenatal care and delivery.[1] The average number of prenatal care visits at the health center increased from 

20 to 31 per month. The number of facility-based deliveries increased from 46 in the year preceding the program to 178 in the first year of the program, and 216 in the second year (Figure 1). During the first two years, PIHL transported 49 women who were experiencing complications in pregnancy or delivery to the local district hospital for care. Not one woman who was enrolled in the MMRP died during this time. These positive results show that comprehensive, integrated, community-based care can be delivered to pregnant women living in extreme poverty in difficult-to-access areas, and can help those women deliver their babies safely.

The comprehensive care that PIHL provides as part of the MMRP is unlike anything that existed before the program. By getting pregnant women into the clinic for initial prenatal visits, PIHL is able to provide routine prenatal care, HIV testing and treatment, and a wide range of other essential services, including:

  • HIV counseling and testing at initial prenatal visit (unless known to be HIV-positive) and at subsequent visits for patients who test negative
  • Cotrimoxazole prophylaxis to prevent pneumonia in HIV-positive women who require it
  • Initiation of antiretroviral prophylaxis for HIV-positive women
  • Testing for syphilis at initial prenatal visit and again at 36 weeks
  • TB screening, and treatment as needed, at each prenatal visit
  • Hemoglobin testing for anemia at initial prenatal visit and 6 weeks later
  • Tetanus toxoid vaccine (at least 3 doses for first pregnancies)
  • Health education on topics such as HIV, nutrition, signs of labor, and newborn care
  • Identification of high-risk pregnancies and instructions to deliver at district hospital

How PIH is Impacting Global Health: PIH is exploring ways to use the lessons learned from the MMRP at other PIH country sites, enabling us to build on the great innovations from Lesotho. Furthermore, we have made our MMRP training materials freely available to partners and other organizations doing similar work in Lesotho and beyond. These measures will ensure this innovative program will pave the way for others to make progress in bettering the health of the destitute sick around the world.

[1] Satti H et al. Comprehensive approach to improving maternal health and achieving MDG 5: Report from the mountains of Lesotho. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42700.

[1] Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey, 2009.

Ben Solomon for The New York Times
Ben Solomon for The New York Times

HIV in the Mountain Kingdom

Nicholas Kristof and Jordan Schermerhorn recenty visited a clinic run by Partners in Health in the highlands of Lesotho. Jordan Schermerhorn, a recent graduate of Rice University, is the 2012 “Win A Trip” winner -- a contest featured in Nicholas Kristof's 'On the Ground'  column in the New York Times. She is currently traveling with Nick through parts of southern Africa. In her first post, she writes about HIV treatment in Lesotho:

For my first trip outside of the United States, I felt amply prepared for new experiences traveling across southern Africa – for witnessing both the struggles of poverty and the optimism of burgeoning economic growth.

Then I saw the plane.

Suppressing nervousness, I scrambled into the tiny six-seat propeller plane that bore us on the first leg of our journey to a health clinic. It looked hardly bigger than a toy, and each of us was weighed before stepping inside so the pilot could calculate the amount of fuel necessary. The plane was to take us to the small village of Bobete, near the center of the southern African country of Lesotho. This country is aptly named the Mountain Kingdom: immense geographical barriers limit the construction of roads and airstrips used to reach patients in remote, rural villages, and our bird’s eye view provided some insight into the complexity of delivering health care in Lesotho. Health centers in the distant reaches of the country are often swarmed with patients, many of whom are unable to trek to the clinics in snow storms. Such weather also poses immense difficulties for planes attempting to drop off supplies: for instance, the clinic we visited was out of injectable contraceptives.

As we made our approach, buildings trimmed in bright red – characteristic, I later learned, of all health facilities in Lesotho – stood out sharply against grain-covered slopes. I was thrilled to spot solar panels on the periphery of the clinic. Along with a backup generator, this reliable power source allows the clinic to operate independently of regular blackouts that plague similar areas, keeping X-ray and ultrasound machines running for patients in need.

The Bobete clinic, an outpost tucked away in the mountains, is run by Partners in Health, the organization founded by Dr. Paul Farmer and best known for its work in Haiti. The clinic is used primarily to treat HIV patients in a catchment area of 30,000 people. In Lesotho, 23% of the adult population is HIV positive – most of them women of childbearing age – and treatment is undergoing a transformation. With a HIV diagnosis no longer considered an immediate death sentence, the stigma surrounding the disease here is vastly reduced.

One HIV-positive woman we spoke to said she was not scared when her test results first came back: she knew what HIV was, and that it was manageable with medication. After a few weeks of antiretrovirals, she felt well enough to head to the capital city of Maseru in search of a job – only to catch tuberculosis four months later. Though she was forced to retreat to the clinic that had first saved her life, she soon expects to be back in her healthiest state. Unfortunately, this cycle of concurrent infectious and chronic disease is not uncommon: HIV patients may catch tuberculosis time and time again.

It helps immensely that antiretroviral drugs are available for free here, but the question remains as to whether or not that will be sustainable as people with HIV live longer. Prevention is becoming increasingly important, and one of the most essential paths to eradication of the epidemic is the prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Pregnant women arriving at the Bobete clinic are HIV tested as a matter of course, and those who test positive are provided with a substantial support system to ensure their children are borne free of the virus.

We met another HIV-positive woman with a toddler whose squirming could not be suppressed even when strapped tightly to her back under a blanket. She had followed careful protocol while pregnant, diligently boiling water and cleaning bottles when opting to exclusively formula-feed her son. Though her mother had eight children, she says this one is quite enough for her; though she halted her education after two years of secondary school, she dreams of sending her son to university. This is the progress Lesotho can hope for in the next generation of the fight against HIV and AIDS: with effective prevention techniques, an educated population, and an expanding health system, all toddlers should be so lucky.

And, yes, the visit to the clinic was worth a bumpy flight in a tiny airplane. I even got to ride in the co-pilot’s seat on the way back for a free flying lesson.


About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

Partners In Health (PIH)

Location: Boston, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Charles Howes
Development Team
Boston, MA United States

Retired Project!

This project is no longer accepting donations.

Still want to help?

Support another project run by Partners In Health (PIH) that needs your help, such as:

Find a Project

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.