New and improved residences near health facilities are making it easier for women in rural Zambia to receive quality maternity care in a timely manner.

Note: This story also appears on the Merck for Mothers website.

Photo Credit: ZCAHRD/Boston University

Many Zambian women live in remote, rural areas often hours or even days away from the nearest health facility. Great distances and transportation challenges limit their ability to receive the care they need, when they need it most: in the later stages of pregnancy, during childbirth, and during the immediate postpartum period.

In Zambia, women in the late stages of pregnancy have traditionally gone to stay in mothers’ shelters – residences near or next to the health facilities where they plan to deliver – to overcome distance barriers to care. However, there are limited quality shelters. Existing shelters are generally in poor condition, offer weak services and are unsustainable.

To encourage more women to give birth in a health facility, Merck for Mothers collaborated with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ELMA Foundation to form the Mothers’ Shelter Alliancein 2015. The Alliance is part of Savings Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL), a public-private partnership that has made impressive progress in reducing maternal mortality in Zambia as well as Uganda. In two years, together with Africare/University of Michigan and ZCAHRD/Boston University, the Alliancebuilt 24 mothers’ shelters linked to quality health facilities that SMGL has upgraded.

The Alliance is helping ensure the sustainability of these shelters and the services they provide by empowering local communities to effectively manage them. As part of this effort, communities are pursuing creative entrepreneurial activities which have already generated income to support the shelters’ operations. In addition, community-elected governing committees are collaborating with health facility staff and mother shelter managers to make collective decisions about how to best manage the shelters for the benefit of their wives, mothers, sisters, and friends.

More than 4,000 women have already used the shelters and over 10,000 women have delivered in facilities providing high-quality care. Alliance partners shared photos that capture some of the progress.

Click through the photo gallery below.