Sakeena Yacoobi and Healthy Mothers

I have been watching the Ashoka Healthy Mother Competition with interest. Maternal Health is one of my passions; I studied it in graduate school and it has been part of my work for the last ten years. The ideas submitted to the competition have ranged from half-considered flashes of thought to fully imagined comprehensive maternal health programs. I am an advisor to one of them – AYZH, a social venture that works to provide clean, green birth kits to women in India.

It will not surprise you, then that I would love to attend the 2010 Maternal Health Change Summit in India. This post is my entry in the contest to attend the summit. I’m not going to talk about AYZH here, because it doesn’t seem quite fair to write about something so close to my heart in this context.

Instead, I will write about Sakeena Yacoobi. Founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), she is one of the true heroes of this world. An Afghan-American, she returned to Afghanistan to serve women in her country of birth. The Afghan Institute of Learning offers services from basic education to human rights leadership training for 350,000 women and children in Afghanistan. They supported underground schools during the Taliban regime.

They also offer health care and health education. AIL is the provider of medical care for thousands of Afghan women. They use a family health approach, focusing on education and preventative care as well as medical services. When you are dealing with maternal health, it’s the gold standard. Women need knowledge in order to have a health pregnancy, not just skilled care when giving birth.

One of the most interesting things about maternal health is the range of interventions we have to improve it. We need both innovations like better incubators for premature infants and well-known essentials like educating mothers, supporting maternal nutrition, and skilled personnel to accompany births.

AIL offers those essentials, to women who have no other options. Maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan are staggering. 18 mothers out of every thousand die as a result of motherhood; the second highest rate in the world. The three clinics of the Afghan Institute of Learning are helping to bring that number down, and they deserve our support to do it.

Check out other solutions for improving maternal health or to participate in the global call to solutions, please visit Healthy Mothers, Strong World: The Next Generation of Ideas for Maternal Health.

TED India

TED India splash page

Those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter may not know that I am attending TED India as a fellow next week. TED is a conference devoted to problem-solving and unexpected solutions; the theme for next week in Mysore is “The Future Beckons.”

I’m pretty excited about the conference, and I am hoping to learn a lot. But I’ve never been to a conference like this before; I’ve only ever been to technical conferences like the APHA annual meeting, or Global Health Council. Inspiration and ideas are a whole new deal for me. So, since my readers are some of the smartest people I know – how do I get the most out of this? What kind of sessions do you think I should attend? Should I write down what I learned every night? Have any of you been to TED? Anything I should prepare for?

Monday blog round-up

Jeff Trexler is talking about design dilution, intellectual property rights, and dancing condoms.

Ethan Zuckerman is worrying about the Zimbabwe elections and the future of journalism.

The Discomfort Zone has some great stuff up about Kosovo, Cuba, and India.

Finally, Dave Hunsicker is writing about secular fundamentalism in Turkey.

Mental health in the rest of the world

Psychotherapy for All: An Experiment – New York Times. The NYT looks at an Indian experiment in providing mental health treatment at Indian clinics. A lot of people believe that illnesses such as depression and anxiety are first-world luxuries. Anyone who’s spent time abroad can tell you that’s not the case.

This is interesting to me because while donors and NGOs are starting to pay some attention to mental health in emergency situations, it’s still very rare to look at mental health in ordinary life. Like dental care, it tends to be low priority. This Indian intervention may mean that is changing.

Two on Tuesday, 3/4/2008

Two on Tuesday: Two blogs I’ve been reading lately

1) Technology, Health & Development. I always love to find blogs which cover a wide range of development topics in the hands-on way I enjoy, and this one is great. The current posting is about a health insurance scheme for Indian farmers that seems almost too good to be true. The THD sidebar is a treasure trove of interesting links.

2) Jeremiah Owyang’s web strategy blog. I am in love with this post, called “Stop fondling the hammer.” It’s about not confusing your web strategy tools with your web strategy. I think it points to a larger problem that afflicts many otherwise competent organizations; a new technique can be so exciting you want it to do everything.