Raheem Akingbolu writes on the Yellow Heart initiative of the MTN Foundation and how it is being used to address maternal mortality in rural areas

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business”. This classic quote of all times by the foremost engineer and inventor, Henry Ford applies to businesses in the country and Africa in general today as it has always been.

It implies that a business that benefits so much from the society and clients who transact business with it and refuses to impact lives in the society and the society itself, has failed in its responsibilities. As a result of this, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), one of the stems of sound corporate governance is increasingly attaining wider global and local adoption as its impacts in helping nations meet their sustainable development goals become more perceptible.

Today, top executives across different industry want to demonstrate their corporate citizenship through altruistic, ethical and legal initiatives that presents their organisations as socially responsible.
However, the big challenge for executives is how to develop an approach that can truly deliver on these lofty ambitions—and, as of yet, few have found the way. Some innovative companies have managed to overcome this hurdle, with smart partnering emerging as one way to create value for both the business and society simultaneously. Some others have also been able to create a sustainable CSR Strategy tailored towards their values.

MTN Foundation as example
For MTN Nigeria, a telecommunications company that damned the consequence 17 years ago to explore the nation’s telecommunication market, when other players feared to do so, the need to give back was quickly incorporated into its portfolio shortly after the adventure became a success story. Over a decade ago, the company thus established the MTN Foundation Limited as a separate entity for the purpose of focusing MTN Nigeria’s efforts in terms of its Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives to help reduce poverty and foster sustainable development in Nigeria. Over the years, the foundation has delved into education, entertainment and health under three portfolio areas; education, health and economic empowerment.

Yellow Heart Initiative
MTN Foundation took its health intervention project a notch higher recently when it initiated the Yellow Heart Initiative, which is designed to help reduce maternal mortality ratio in the country. Through the initiative, the foundation struck a partnership deal with the Federal Ministry of Health and state governments.

In 2015, maternal mortality ratio for Nigeria was put at 814 deaths per 100,000 live births. This discovery thus put stakeholders at crossroads. Perhaps this spurred MTN Foundation Limited into action and since then, the management has not look back as the train has touched many states to orientate medical personnel and women.

Recently, the train reached Calabar, Cross River State to partner with the state government to reduce the scourge of many deaths by women during pregnancy and other health related issues. The two-phase event included a panel discussion and awareness work around the capital city. The theme of the discussion was ‘State of Maternal Health Delivery in Cross River State’ while the awareness walk was tagged ‘Walk for Life’.

The road show, which was flagged off by the wife of the governor, Dr. Linda Ayade, who was represented by the wife of the deputy governor, Mrs. Omotunde Ivara Esu, began from the popular Millennium Park through Whatt Market to sensitise pregnant women on the need to attend antenatal care and not resort to churches.
Speaking on what informed the road show; Mrs. Ayade said it was initiated between the Telecommunication Company and Cross River State Government to create awareness about the importance of seeking good medical care by the women and children.

‘’The government of Cross River State sees a willing partner in MTN Foundation in the state’s determination to combat maternal mortality. With this awareness walk, we want women in Cross River State to know the importance of good medical care during and after pregnancy. The government has consistently emphasised the fact that pregnancy is not death sentence and having children should not be crime. What is important is to seek and rely on modern medical system,’’ she said.

Awareness campaign
A day before the awareness walk, Governor Ben Ayade, while declaring the programme opened, had stated at a public forum that involved all stakeholders; medical personnel, women in their hundreds and government officials, that his administration is committed to ensuring that mothers and children are safe at all times.

Ayade said his administration threw its weight behind the MTN Foundation Yellow Heart Programme in order to improve the health of the state, especially maternal and child health care programme aimed at reducing the high rate of maternal and child mortality in the state.

The governor, who was represented by the secretary to the State Government, Tina Banku Agbor expressed appreciation to MTN for the laudable initiative and the many projects being carried out by them in the state especially in the health sector as well as partnering the state to improve the lives of Women and children adding that the Stat Governor is indeed glad to partner with the MTN Foundation.

According to Ayade, when he assumed the mantle of leadership as Governor of the state, he saw the maternal and child mortality indices in the state, and he quickly swung into action to help reduce the rate, as well as ensuring that people of the state have effective, efficient, qualitative, affordable and accessible health services. For effective coordination of the administration’s health programmes, the governor disclosed that he appointed a young and dynamic Commissioner for Health, Inyang Asibong to oversee the activities of the ministry and went further to establish the CRS Primary Health Care Development Agency with the appointment of Betta Edu as the Director – General of the Agency to help strengthen the Primary Health CRS System in the State.

He also stated that he worked with the Cross River House of Assembly to initiate a law for the State Health Insurance scheme to help the poor and the vulnerable access health facilities in the State. Ayade enjoined MTN to seek the State Government assistance whenever the need arises and assured them of his participation in the advocacy walk/campaign.

Expressing appreciation on behalf of the state Government, wife of the Governor of Cross River State, Dr. Linda Ayade, commended the foundation for the initiative and other impactful projects commissioned by the Foundation in the state. “The MTN Foundation deserves to be commended for initiating several interventions in the state, particularly in the area of health. The donation of the Y’ello Doctor mobile clinic and a hemodialysis center, and the renovation of the post-natal ward at the general hospital are among the several impactful initiatives of the MTN Foundation in the state and we are sincerely grateful”.

The First lady further disclosed that the Yellow heart initiative aligns with actions of the state government in improving healthcare in the state. “We founded the Mediatrix Development Foundation (MDF) to channel health and development interventions that will address the needs of the vulnerable and less privileged in the state. 1000 persons have received dental and eye care including drugs and laboratory services, we have provided 219 free surgeries, 280 women have received breast and cervical cancer screening, among others”, she said.

She lamented the situation where many children die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and child birth on daily basis in Nigeria and therefore expressed appreciation to MTN Foundation for contributing towards the health of women and children in Nigeria and Cross River State in particular, while encouraging them to do even more in this direction.

Myth and tradition as bottlenecks
The peak of the event was a roundtable session, where medical personnel, drawn from both private and public sectors across the state, took time to relate their ugly experiences while working with pregnant women across the state.
The declaration of one of the panellists, who is also the Secretary of the Nigeria Medical Association in the state, Dr. Ukweh Ikechukwu, drew tears from the crowd when he related the pathetic story of how a pregnant woman died with her baby, under the care of a pastor after being in labour for two days.

“One of the major challenges we are contending with in Cross River is superstition and myth. Our people put so much trust in pastors and traditional health attendants and this has led to the death of many women and children. I want to use this forum to state categorically that hospital is different from church and they perform different roles. Sometimes ago, a Pastor rushed a woman in labour to my office and after enquires, the Pastor confessed that the woman in question had been in labour for two days in her church. The poor woman had lost a lot and became weak. I faced the husband and asked if the pastor and his wife were doctors, he answered in the negative. At the end, the woman died and I handed over the pastor to the police,” Ikechukwu stated.

In her remarks, the Commissioner for Health, Inyang Asibong, also corroborated the position of the Gov. Ayade that the health of women and children are paramount. According to her there is a reduction in the maternal and child mortality rate from 1,500 to 576 in Cross River which is about the national average.

Asibong disclosed that in a survey conducted by UNICEF, CRS emerged the best child survival indices in Nigeria which was immediately followed by the conferment of National Child Survival Ambassador bestowed on. Linda Ayade by UNICEF and that CRS is the only state in the South South region that won MTN bidding rights by MTN Foundation support project for the renovation of postnatal ward in the General Hospital which shows that the state is actively contributing to significantly reduce the maternal mortality indices.

She further disclosed that bout eight General Hospitals have been chosen by MTN for in the Yellow Heart project.
“In Cross River State, especially the Health sector, maternal, newborn and child health issues are paramount, this can be evident in huge reduction of maternal mortal indices from 1,500 to 576 which is the national average. Very recently, in a survey conducted by UNICEF, Cross River State emerged the state with the best child survival indices in Nigeria, and this followed with the conferment of the title of pioneer National Child Survival Ambassador being bestowed on the governor’s wife by UNICEF and the Mediatrix Development Foundation as one of the strong pillars of Maternal and Child Health in Nigeria,”

Speaking on the Foundation’s decision to support the Cross River State Government on this initiative, Director, MTN Foundation, Mr. Dennis Okoro said the foundation was sensitive to challenges within the society and it is against this backdrop that the foundation created a mandate to spend towards improving the state of healthcare, education and economic empowerment. “We hope to use the Yellow Heart initiative to address predominant issues such as attitudes and cultural practices that hinder women and children from accessing healthcare services in the society,” he added.

In an interview with THISDAY, a Deputy Director in the state’s ministry of health, Mrs. Rebecca Etong, described the initiative as a laudable one that would go a long way improving the lives of women and children in Cross River State. While appreciating the government and the management of the foundation, the senior nursing official, called on women to access and review the programme and key into it for better living.

A pregnant woman, Mrs. Blessing Ekpenyong said the event had further equipped pregnant women on how to take care of themselves and their unborn babies. She appreciated MTN Foundation and called on women in the state to avoid things that would complicate their delivery as spelt out by experts at the event.