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Reflections From My First 100 Days at Merck For Mothers

By Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, Executive Director, Merck for Mothers

March 21, 2017

A few weeks into my new role as Executive Director for Merck for Mothers I found myself front row and center at the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, a proud moment for Merck and our 10-year, $500 million initiative to end preventable maternal deaths. It was at Davos that we announced our $10 million commitment to the Global Financing Facility (GFF), a multi-stakeholder partnership hosted by the World Bank that finances country-led efforts to improve maternal and child health.

Merck for Mothers contribution to the GFF Trust Fund – the first from the private sector—will support efforts to ensure women survive childbirth, thrive over a lifetime and are able to transform their societies. Watching the highlights from the breakfast panel where our CEO Ken Frazier, Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank discussed the power of innovative financing solutions and public-private partnerships, I am reminded of the mobilizing energy generated by their exchanges.

It's not just joining the GFF that makes this an exciting time for Merck for Mothers. In the five years since launch, we have worked with 75 partners in 30 countries to improve access to quality maternal healthcare and modern contraceptives for over 6 million women. I have spent the last three months meeting many of our partners and key stakeholders, and thinking about how we can deepen our work and amplify our impact on the ground. I traveled to India, where we're working with Jhiepgo to improve quality of care among local private providers – a sector that has long been overlooked. At the All India Congress of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AICOG) national conference in Ahmedabad, I celebrated the provider champions who worked to ensure that their facilities met standards for quality maternal care endorsed by the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI). As we prepare to scale the program, we will be counting on their leadership to grow and sustain adoption.

Closer to home, I participated in a New York City workshop hosted by one of our evaluation partners, the Yale School of Public Health, with teams from Merck for Mothers-supported Community Health Worker programs. To communicate their impact on the lives of pregnant women, these teams shared patient stories with us that reinforced my belief that a focus on the social determinants of health, as well as co-existing chronic mental and physical conditions, will be necessary to reverse the disturbing trends of rising risks and increasing disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity that are occurring in many communities across the United States. We will also continue to support efforts to produce stronger data needed to better understand the underlying causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. Merck for Mothers is fully committed to using data to inform our work and we will leverage program findings and apply lessons learned to improve our partnerships and projects.

In my first 100 days, I also had the chance to explore with the UN Assistant Secretary-General Thomas Gass on #SDGLive how the work of Merck for Mothers contributes to reductions in the maternal mortality rate (MMR) – a key indicator of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for health. In that conversation, we also acknowledged that because many of the causes and drivers of maternal mortality are multi-factorial, solutions will require a multi-sectoral response.

Through collaboration with other private sector partners in support of SDGs, Merck for Mothers can catalyze effective action against some of the toughest global health challenges.

It is my honor and privilege to have joined such a dedicated team at Merck for Mothers who are all so fully invested in building a world where no woman – or girl – dies giving life. As a result of the remarkable leadership of Dr. Priya Agrawal, the previous executive director, I will be able to build on the strong partnerships, tested program models, and knowledge generated during the first phase of Merck for Mothers. These foundations will allow us to continue to advance our contributions for even greater impact in the years ahead. I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress.

Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet
Executive Director, Merck for Mothers

Dr. Etiebet is a physician, researcher and strong advocate for women's health, with extensive experience working with international development partners to design, manage and evaluate programs that address the needs of vulnerable and at risk populations. As the Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, Dr. Etiebet is responsible for successfully implementing a robust set of innovative programs across the globe, designing new high-impact partnerships, managing relationships with important external stakeholders, and serving as an internal and external ambassador of the initiative.

She combines clinical expertise as a Board Certified Infectious Disease physician with global experience in healthcare strategy, health systems strengthening and performance improvement in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Dr. Etiebet earned her MD and MBA from Yale University, and completed her residency and fellowship training at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital System.