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UNC has received a five-year, $8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve maternal and infant health and save the lives of mothers and infants in Malawi by strengthening the President’s Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood Initiative (SMI).

“We are thrilled to receive this funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the government of Malawi to maximize the impact of the Safe Motherhood Initiative and improve the lives of women in Malawi,” said Dr. Jeff Wilkinson, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UNC who lives full-time in Malawi.

Malawi has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (675 per 100,000 births) and has seen only modest improvements since 2005. Deaths among children under age five are also high compared to other countries in the region (112 for every 1,000 births). Availability of emergency obstetric and neonatal care, family planning resources and skilled birth attendants are key to reducing mother and infant deaths during and after childbirth.

The Malawi government began the National Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood Initiative in 2010 and President Banda officially launched the SMI Secretariat shortly after she took office in 2012.

Among the initiatives UNC will assist with is designing model maternity homes, where women who are about to deliver or who have just delivered will receive health education and services.

Training is another critical component of the SMI, and UNC will support the training of maternal and newborn health care providers across the spectrum, from nurse midwives to consulting obstetrician-gynecologists. UNC is also in the process of helping to establish Malawi’s first residency program in obstetrics and gynecology.

“UNC is deeply committed to women’s health around the world, and we will do everything we can to assist President Banda’s initiative to make pregnancy and delivery safer for all women,” said Dr. Jeff Stringer, an obstetrician who lived and worked in Zambia for more than a decade and now directs UNC Global Women’s Health. With seven faculty members living full-time in Malawi and Zambia, UNC has the largest global OB-GYN division in the United States.

UNC has been working in Malawi for more than 20 years. UNC Project-Malawi is a collaboration between the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases and the Malawi Ministry of Health. Its mission is to identify innovative, culturally acceptable and affordable methods to improve the health of the Malawi people through research, health systems strengthening, prevention, training and clinical care. Originally established to address the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, UNC Project-Malawi now works in the areas of malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, cancer, trauma, burns, family planning, emergency obstetrics and pediatrics.

Published July 11, 2013.