Comprehensive approach to improving maternal health and achieving MDG 5: report from the mountains of Lesotho

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42700. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042700. Epub 2012 Aug 27.


Background: Although it is now widely recognized that reductions in maternal mortality and improvements in women's health cannot be achieved through simple, vertical strategies, few programs have provided successful models for how to integrate services into a comprehensive program for maternal health. We report our experience in rural Lesotho, where Partners In Health (PIH) in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare implemented a program that provides comprehensive care of pregnant women from the community to the clinic level.

Methods: Between May and July 2009, PIH trained 100 women, many of whom were former traditional birth attendants, to serve as clinic-affiliated maternal health workers. They received performance-based incentives for accompanying pregnant women during antenatal care (ANC) visits and facility-based delivery. A nurse-midwife provided ANC and delivery care and supervised the maternal health workers. To overcome geographic barriers to delivering at the clinic, women who lived far from the clinic stayed at a maternal lying-in house prior to their expected delivery dates. We analyzed data routinely collected from delivery and ANC registers to compare service utilization before and after implementation of the program.

Results: After the establishment of the program, the average number first ANC visits increased from 20 to 31 per month. The clinic recorded 178 deliveries in the first year of the program and 216 in the second year, compared to 46 in the year preceding the program. During the first two years of the program, 49 women with complications were successfully transported to the district hospital, and no maternal deaths occurred among the women served by the program.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that it is possible to achieve dramatic improvements in the utilization of maternal health services and facility-based delivery by strengthening human resource capacity, implementing active follow-up in the community, and de-incentivizing home births.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Services
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Delivery, Obstetric
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lesotho
  • Maternal Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Maternal Welfare*
  • Midwifery
  • Nurse Midwives
  • Obstetrics / education
  • Obstetrics / methods
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prenatal Care / organization & administration
  • Program Development

Grants and funding

The Elton John AIDS Foundation UK provided funding for the pilot program at Bobete Health Center. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.