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Glob Health Sci Pract. 2019 Mar 13;7(Suppl 1):S188-S206. doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-18-00265. Print 2019 Mar 11.

Sustainability and Scale of the Saving Mothers, Giving Life Approach in Uganda and Zambia.

Author information

U.S. Agency for International Development, Lusaka, Zambia. Now based in Monrovia, Liberia.
Bureau for Global Health, U.S. Agency for International Development, Washington, DC, USA.
Ministry of Health, Government of the Republic of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia.
ICF, Rockville, Maryland, USA.
HIV Health Office, U.S. Agency for International Development, Kampala, Uganda.
Baylor College of Medicine Children's Foundation-Uganda, Kampala, Uganda.
Bureau for Global Health, U.S. Agency for International Development and RTI, Washington, DC, USA. Now with Palladium, Abuja, Nigeria.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lusaka, Zambia. Now retired.



Saving Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL) significantly reduced maternal and perinatal mortality in Uganda and Zambia by using a district health systems strengthening approach to address the key delays women and newborns face in receiving quality, timely, and appropriate medical care. This article documents the transition of SMGL from pilot to scale in Uganda and Zambia and analyzes the sustainability of the approach, examining the likelihood of maintaining positive trends in maternal and newborn health in both countries.


We analyzed the potential sustainment of SMGL achievements using a tool adapted from the HIV-focused domains and elements of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Sustainability Index and Dashboard for maternal and neonatal health pro-gramming adding a domain on community normative change. Information for each of the 5 resulting domains was drawn from SMGL and non-SMGL reports, individual stakeholder interviews, and group discussions.


In both Uganda and Zambia, the SMGL proof-of-concept phase catalyzed commitment to saving mothers and newborns and a renewed belief that significant change is possible. Increased leadership and accountability for maternal and newborn health, particularly at the district and facility levels, was bolstered by routine maternal death surveillance reviews that engaged a wide range of local leadership. The SMGL district-strengthening model was found to be cost-effective with cost of death averted estimated at US$177-206 per year of life gained. When further considering the ripple effect that saving a mother has on child survival and the household economy, the value of SMGL increases. Ministries of health and donor agencies have already demonstrated a willingness to pay this amount per year of life for other programs, such as HIV and AIDS.


As SMGL scaled up in both Uganda and Zambia, the intentional integration of SMGL interventions into host country systems, alignment with other large-scale programs, and planned reductions in annual SMGL funding all contributed to increasing host government ownership of the interventions and set the SMGL approach on a path more likely to be sustained following the close of the initiative. Lessons from the learning districts resulted in increased efficiency in allocation of resources for maternal and newborn health, better use of strategic information, improved management capacities, and increased community engagement.

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