Geralyn Ritter – Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy & Corporate Responsibility, Merck
Geralyn Ritter is responsible for worldwide public policy, government affairs and corporate responsibility matters, as well as leading Merck’s philanthropic initiatives. Ms. Ritter also serves as President of The Merck Company Foundation.

Impact interviews Geralyn Ritter, Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility, and President of the Merck Company Foundation, about the Merck Company’s new partnership Merck for Mothers, a 10-year, $500 million initiative to reduce maternal mortality globally, which Geralyn oversees.

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➤ Geralyn Ritter: We are excited to be partnering with PSI and its local affiliate in Uganda, PACE, to reduce the high number of maternal deaths in target regions of the country. As you know, most of these deaths can be prevented if women have better access to good-quality, affordable health care. In Uganda, many women seek care from public health facilities, but what people often don’t realize is that the private sector, such as independent midwives and drug shops, also plays a vital role in delivering maternal health care throughout the country.

Merck for Mothers is exploring how to strengthen these local private health providers as well as health businesses (like pharmacies), which is why we decided to collaborate with PSI, an expert in social franchising. Our new joint project, called the MUM Partnership, seeks to improve maternal health by working with private health-care providers, pharmacies, drug wholesalers, transportation operators and others to improve the quality, accessibility, awareness and affordability of care women receive during pregnancy and childbirth. Our work complements the efforts of Saving Mothers, Giving Life, a public-private partnership among the U.S. government, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Every Mother Counts, and Merck.

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Impact: What will the program do?

➤GR: There are many components of the MUM Partnership – some of which extend beyond traditional public health services – because we know that maternal mortality requires a multi-faceted solution. It is a comprehensive program that addresses the barriers that women face in terms of achieving a safe and healthy birth experience. For example, we are expanding PACE’s ProFam network of social franchise clinics to give women more options for quality care and connecting them with emergency transportation – using innovative, community-based approaches – to help them get to health facilities quickly and safely. We are also educating local pharmacies and community health workers to help them become advocates for safe motherhood. What I am most excited about is that we are developing a program that at its core is designed to be self-sustaining and that we are hoping will have a measurable impact on saving women’s lives.

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Impact:What results do you expect this program to yield?

➤GR: We hope to see the number of ProFam clinics expand from 12 to more than 260 in the five project districts, broadening the reach into remote communities where women are the least likely to have access to high-quality care. Paired with this, we will be mentoring the clinics’ 500+ providers in business management so they are equipped to maintain their business well into the long run. We also hope to connect these providers with loan opportunities to help them expand their services.

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Impact: That sounds like a unique approach. What’s next beyond Uganda?

➤GR: The MUM Partnership will be important in informing future Merck for Mothers programs, particularly in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. We look forward to helping the program evolve and learning about the role that the local private sector can play in improving maternal health care. So, if everything goes as planned, we hope to have valuable lessons to share with the maternal health community as we join with them to help curb avoidable deaths of women during pregnancy and childbirth.

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