Testing innovations to break through Maternal Health bottlenecks during COVID19 and beyond

08 Jun 2020

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 COVID19 upending many existing programmes, innovative partnerships and solutions are needed more than ever. 

In 2019, UNFPA Innovation partnered with WFP Innovation Acceleration 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. 

The 9 teams selected to participate in the bootcamp were sourced from the 2020 UNFPA Innovation Challenge which made a call for bold solutions that address key bottlenecks that prevent women and girls from having equitable access to comprehensive maternal and newborn care.

The UNFPA country teams - from Bangladesh, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Panama, Rwanda, Timor-Leste, and Uganda - will test different innovations (tech and non-tech) to empower women, work with communities, improve service quality, and strengthen health systems.


Photo: @UNFPApanama

UNFPA Panama

Due to COVID19, indigenous women in Panama are accessing sexual and reproductive health services and giving birth in clinics significantly less. The team will co-create culturally-accessible digital solutions to inform about COVID19 and promote self-care with Ngöbe women and girls.


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

UNFPA Timor-Leste

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. The team will explore how virtual reality can help midwives maintain life-saving skills and learning in last-mile communities. 



UNFPA Nicaragua

Due to COVID19, pregnant women may miss vital health care visits, increasing their risk of undetected complications. The team will explore tech-savvy ways to deliver continuous care during the pandemic and beyond.


Photo: @UNFPAUganda

UNFPA Uganda

Costs should never be a barrier for women to access quality maternal health care. The team will explore building an innovative financing model that combines behavioural insights and gamification to encourage family savings for maternal health costs.


Photo: M&J Kotsopoulos 2009

UNFPA Equatorial Guinea

Like many countries with high maternal mortality, Equatorial Guinea has a need for more specialized providers to manage obstetric emergencies. The team will explore how connecting 24/7 expert clinical support remotely to staff on the ground can improve maternal health.


Photo: UNFPA Egypt


For pregnant women in rural Siwa, maternal health care facilities are often more than 300 km away. The team will explore solutions that bridge the gap to connect skilled care workers closer to women in rural communities. 


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

UNFPA Rwanda

Sustainable and cost-effective continuous professional development is a priority for Rwanda’s health sector, especially given COVID19. The team will explore the use of digital gamified training of health workers to enhance skills for saving mother and newborn lives.


Photo: UNFPA Mozambique

UNFPA Mozambique

Delays in reaching health care facilities in rural Mozambique is a barrier to  obtaining life-saving maternal health care care. The team will co-create a safe, on-demand ride-hailing platform to connect pregnant women with reliable transport options in remote communities.


Photo: @UNFPABangladesh

UNFPA Bangladesh

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. The team will apply design thinking to solve referral challenges for the urban poor to access emergency obstetric newborn care. 


About UNFPA Innovation

UNFPA Innovation harnesses new approaches and breakthrough solutions to deliver sexual and reproductive health for all. UNFPA Innovation supports a diversified portfolio including global digital health and data goods, new country office-led ventures for experimentation, and scalable models at country level. Since 2019, UNFPA Innovation has launched an annual global innovation challenge to support entrepreneurial UNFPA teams and their partners to design, prototype, and test novel innovations that ensure rights and choices for women, girls, and young people around the world. UNFPA Innovation is supported by the Governments of Denmark and Finland.

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