My Journey as a Maternal Health Advocate
August 14, 2018 | 40 Years, 40 Stories

As a young medical doctor during my 2001-2002 internship in one of the largest hospitals in Kano, Nigeria, I was posted to a three-month rotation in the maternity division. My responsibilities were to take patient histories, examine patients, and make initial diagnoses before bringing in the senior doctor on call. On a daily basis during my rotation, I was confronted with myriad problems ranging from at least one maternal death per day to patients being asked to pay out of pocket for essential drugs. Emergency drugs needed to address issues such as eclampsia, bleeding during and after pregnancy, and infection were either unavailable or quantities were grossly inadequate to treat the number of female patients.

In considering the magnitude of these problems, I began to think about potential policy solutions and the steps that the political system needed to take to ensure the availability and accessibility of lifesaving drugs, and to enhance the overall capacity and development of the healthcare sector. I began to imagine myself as an advocate who would engage policymakers in a cogent and sustained manner to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality not only in Kano but throughout Nigeria.




At the time, I had little exposure to the world of advocacy and lacked the requisite network, but I was hopeful and committed to driving change in the field. Support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Fund for Leadership Development allowed me to conduct policy research analysis to better understand how public policies shape maternal health services. Armed with this information, I was able to secure meetings with key policymakers, advocates, and private sector leaders, including the commissioners of health, finance, and hospital management board. These experiences provided me with exposure and relationships that led to my election as the first Secretary General of the Kano Network of NGOs in 2005, a group of healthcare and development organizations that shares knowledge, experiences, peer learning, and mentoring. My work through the grant also led to an invitation by the Ministry of Health to join Kano State’s Safe Motherhood Advocacy Committee in 2007, which works to deepen accountability and transparency in the maternal health field.

The exposure and network that resulted from these activities allowed me to advocate effectively for maternal health in many states and at the national level.

The exposure and network that resulted from these activities allowed me to advocate effectively for maternal health in many states and at the national level. In retrospect, I can vividly see how my humble contribution was associated with improved maternal health policies in Kano, including increases in financing for and availability of essential, lifesaving drugs for women, and greater visibility of maternal health problems across the entire country. I also helped to bring about an increase in participation by civil society leaders in government committees focused on maternal health.

Importantly, the grant activities led to a decade of support by MacArthur for the Community Health and Research Initiative (CHR), an organization that I founded and that today is one of the leading and foremost NGOs in Nigeria using evidence-based advocacy to improve the healthcare sector. With CHR I have led advocacy at the national level and in partnership with ten subnational governments to promote the timely release of lifesaving drugs and improved transparency and accountability in the healthcare sector by strengthening public participation and access to information at the primary and secondary health care levesl. CHR has also driven the adoption of accountability mechanisms in Nigeria focused on reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health.




The chain of events stemming from the MacArthur grant provided the environment for me to thrive and transform into a global civil society leader in the healthcare field. Today, I am civil society’s representative to the Global Financing Facility Investors Group. I also founded and am coordinating the Africa Health Budget Network, a regional network that uses budget advocacy to influence adequate health sector finances and improved transparency and accountability related to reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health.

Aminu Magashi Garba was awarded a $32,000 grant in 2003 through MacArthur’s Fund for Leadership Development, which provided 374 grants to 456 individuals totaling $23.4 million between 1991 and 2013 to foster new leadership in and contributions to the population and reproductive health field in four countries: Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and India.


Related Information

Evaluation of the Fund for Leadership Development ›

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