Early Reflections on Mphatlalatsane, a Maternal and Neonatal Quality Improvement Initiative Implemented During COVID-19 in South Africa
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Despite global progress in reducing maternal and neonatal mortality and stillbirths, much work remains to be done to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Reports indicate that coronavirus disease (COVID-19) disrupts the provision and uptake of routine maternal and neonatal health care (MNH) services and negatively impacts cumulative pre-COVID-19 achievements. We describe a multipartnered MNH quality improvement (QI) initiative called Mphatlalatsane, which was implemented in South Africa before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative aimed to reduce the maternal mortality ratio, neonatal mortality rate, and stillbirth rate by 50% between 2018 and 2022. The multifaceted design comprises QI and other intervention activities across micro-, meso-, and macrolevels, and its area-based approach facilitates patients’ access to MNH services. The initiative commenced 6 months pre-COVID-19, with subsequent adaptation necessitated by COVID-19. The initial focus on a plan-do-study-act QI model shifted toward meeting the immediate needs of health care workers (HCWs), the health system, and health care managers arising from COVID-19. Examples include providing emotional support to staff and streamlining supply chain management for infection control and personal protection materials. As these needs were addressed, Mphatlalatsane gradually refocused HCWs’ and managers’ attention to recognize the disruptions caused by COVID-19 to routine MNH services. This gradual reprioritization included the development of a risk matrix to help staff and managers identify specific risks to service provision and uptake and develop mitigating measures. Through this approach, Mphatlalatsane led to an optimization case using existing resources rather than requesting new resources to build an investment case, with a responsive design and implementation approach as the cornerstone of the initiative. Further, Mphatlalatsane demonstrates that agile and context-specific responses to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic can mitigate such threats and maintain interventions to improve MNH services.