Why Coca-Cola is so passionate about funding Maternal, Childhood Health in Nigeria – Clem Ugorji

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Dr. Clem Ugorji is the Public Affairs and Communications Director, Coca-Cola West Africa Business Unit. In this conversation during a workshop on Safe Birth Initiative (SBI) organised by the beverage maker in  Lagos, he gives insight on why the company is so passionate about helping the Nigerian government to fund the expenses of Maternal Health, one of the items on UN Sustainable Development Goal 3:  Good Health and well-being for all at all ages.

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What is the goal of Coca-Cola’s partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health?

The goal of this partnership is to contribute to ongoing efforts on the prevention of the avoidable deaths of women at childbirth and of newborns due to poor antenatal practices, poor state of delivery facilities and lack of equipment for post-natal emergencies in many hospitals. The partnership, through the Safe Birth Initiative (SBI) aims to strengthen the effectiveness of maternal and newborn healthcare thereby reducing the very high maternal and newborn mortality ratios in the country.

How serious is the maternal and neonatal health challenge Nigeria?

Nigeria faces a very high incidence of maternal and neonatal mortality, than many countries of the world. According to UNICEF, Nigeria loses as many as 576 women per 100,000 live births- this means that almost one in every 100 women in Nigeria dies during childbirth. In 2015, Nigeria accounted for 19% of women who died in child birth around the world, being regarded as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for childbirth and the 4th country with the worst maternal mortality rate -Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad were the worst three (United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Maternal Mortality Estimation). With these statistics, it is obvious that maternal and neonatal mortality is a very serious issue in Nigeria.

What are Nigeria’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets on maternal and newborn mortalities?

Like most other countries, Nigeria has adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is committed to achieving the global targets to reduce maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 childbirths and reduce neonatal mortality to as low as 12

per 1,000 live births by 2030.

Why is Coca-Cola focusing on maternal and newborn healthcare in Nigeria?

The commitment to help promote sustainable development in our communities is a fundamental part of Coca-Cola’s strategy for sustainable business growth. Coca-Cola’s sustainability initiatives are centered on the 3Ws – Women, Water and Well Being. We are committed to working with governments and other stakeholders to co-create and champion solutions to the key challenges that face our communities, as demonstrated with a number of our flagship programmes such as 5by20, Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) and Project Last Mile (PLM).

Maternal and neonatal mortality is one of the most serious public health challenges in Nigeria and resonates strongly in our interactions with stakeholders because it involves mostly preventable loss of lives and lingering pain and agony for families. The primary victims- women and newborns- are the most vulnerable population groups that deserve the most protection.

Additionally, Coca-Cola has a special relationship with women who are pillars of our business, especially in Africa and including Nigeria, where they play a dominant role in our distribution and retail network. Just like our 5by20 Initiative, the Safe Birth Initiative is another great platform for Coca-Cola to give back to women and support them through the very vulnerable moments of childbirth.

 Who are the key partners in the Safe Birth Initiative?

The Safe Birth Initiative is a strategic golden triangle partnership involving Coca-Cola, the Government (the Federal Ministry of Health and the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals) and an NGO, Medshare International Inc., which will be responsible for procuring and installing the medical equipment and training the biomedical technicians.

How much is Coca-Cola investing in the programme?

Coca-Cola will provide a $1million grant to Medshare International, which will leverage its network in the US to source for relevant equipment and supplies from manufacturers, hospitals and other donors and will deliver an estimated value of $10.8 million, excluding the value of the capacity training for biomedical technicians.

What are the specific interventions under this programme?

The Safe Birth Initiative will focus on three (3) key intervention areas:

*Equipping maternities and neonatal units in selected public hospitals with essential tools, equipment and supplies to enable safe deliveries and post-delivery care for both mothers and their newborns.

* Providing equipment operation and maintenance training to update the skills of biomedical technicians in public hospitals to help improve the uptime and effectiveness of installed equipment.

* Repairs and reactivation of faulty and abandoned equipment in public hospitals.

It is expected that the hospitals benefiting from the programme can then repurpose their budgets for equipment and supplies towards other areas of need such as recruiting more doctors and healthcare workers to further strengthen capacity.

“Coca-Cola will provide a $1million grant to Medshare International, which will leverage its network in the US to source for relevant equipment and supplies from manufacturers, hospitals and other donors and will deliver an estimated value of $10.8 million, excluding the value of the capacity training for biomedical technicians.”  

How will the hospitals be selected and how many will this programme benefit?

The focus of this programme is on public hospitals. The specific hospitals that will benefit from the programme are determined after a detailed needs assessment exercise conducted by the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with, Medshare International. Currently, ten (10) leading referral hospitals comprising teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and general hospitals have been approved to benefit from the Safe Birth Initiative.

In the first phase of this programme (2018-2020), the 10 beneficiary hospitals that have been approved by the government ministry of health are University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, National Hospital, Abuja; Alimosho General Hospital; University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesa, Osun State. Others are Federal Medical Centre, Katsina, Federal Medical Centre, Owerri; Abubaka Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital, Bauchi, etc.

Is this intervention limited to Nigeria?

No. The programme is also being implemented in Cote d’Ivoire where Coca-Cola is partnering with the Ministry of Health. Ivory Coast which has enjoyed stability and one of the fastest economic growth rates since the end of a civil war in 2011, grapples with some of the highest maternal and newborn mortality ratios globally. According to UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report, 38 out of every 1,000 babies die within the first 28 days of birth while 645 out of 100,000 women die during or shortly after child birth due to avoidable conditions. This translates to 31,000 newborn and 5,400 maternal deaths annually in a country with a population of 24 million people.

In Nigeria on the other hand, about 40,000 women and 260,000 newborns (excluding 300,000 stillborn) die during or shortly after childbirth annually. About 29% of the newborn deaths (90,000) occur in the first 24 hours of birth. For this reason, neonatal mortality is considered as one of the worst public health crises in Nigeria and a major priority for the Government in its resolve to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Also, exploratory discussions are ongoing in some other countries in the West Africa sub-region, such as Senegal.

Is this a one-off donation or a long term programme?

Our intent is to make the Safe Birth Initiative a sustainable programme that will be replicated in more hospitals across Nigeria and in the other countries in the sub-region. To ensure the sustainability of this scheme and extend its reach, we will strive to create partnerships with like –minded organizations and donors. We believe that that by creating a network of partners we can future-proof the scheme and increase our impact.  So, it is not going to be funded by Coca-Cola alone. We are in talk with other partners to come on board , especially members of Food and Beverage Recycling Association, FBRA, because, no matter how big Coke is, we cannot do it alone. Together, we can do more than one company can do.

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