AMREF midwife Tadelechm listens to fetal heart beat with a pinard horn in a village in Ethiopia.
by Dr Teguest Guerma
Every year, 200,000 women die in Africa due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
They die for lack of the most basic medical care. Whether complications result from high blood pressure, obstructed labor, hemorrhaging, HIV/AIDS, unsafe abortion or anemia from malaria or malnutrition, many women die because they do not have access or information about professional antenatal care. And when mothers do have access, health clinics are often miles away from the remote areas where the majority of African women live.
Young women and girls are especially vulnerable. In many African communities, girls marry when they are very young and their familiarity with contraceptives and family planning is limited. Teenage mothers suffer some of the worst complications, as giving birth is a particularly physically traumatic experience for a girl whose body is still developing.
Currently, one in 39 women in sub-Saharan Africa risks dying in pregnancy or childbirth, as compared to one in 4,300 women in developed countries. The health care that expectant mothers in the developed world take for granted – an obstetrician, skilled midwives, an operating theatre, sterile equipment, even a bed or clean sheets – are all great luxuries in most of Africa.
Yet there is one locally-based solution to this problem. One that doesn’t cost a lot--and does not need constant replacing, maintenance or additional funds. Midwives. Midwives save lives. They educate mothers, look after them in pregnancy, assist them during delivery and follow up to make sure mother and baby are fine.
AMREF, together with global patron, Graça Machel Mandela, have launched Stand Up For African Mothers, a global campaign that aims to train 15,000 midwives by 2015 to contribute to the reduction of maternal deaths by 25% in Africa. One midwife is able to look after 500 mothers every year and safely deliver 100 babies, ultimately helping over seven million African women.
Indeed, one Ugandan midwife, Esther Mududu, often works 12 hours a day and is seen as a national hero. Training more like her would make a real impact. To honour Esther, AMREF has nominated her for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize and encourages everyone to sign the petition for Esther’s nomination. This is a highly symbolic nomination, as through Esther, AMREF wants to honour all African midwives for the critical role they play in saving the lives of mothers and their children.
Of all the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)--those goals to improve the maternal health and welfare of women (MDG 4 & 5) have made the least progress. Yet investing in women and their health strengthens families, communities and countries. Family budgets, local productivity and national wealth all flourish where maternal health is prioritized.
The key to creating lasting health change in Africa is to train more skilled health professionals. AMREF’s Ugandan midwife e-learning project for example will upgrade the skills of 11,000 midwives over a five year period. Midwives would remain at their homes, access world class health education online whether in the remotest village or in the capital city and continue to provide services at their health facility as they study. Such enhanced training opportunities in remote areas would reduce rural migration to urban areas--keeping the healthcare workers where they are needed most.
By focusing on the health of women and children, we can improve the health of the entire community. AMREF strongly believes in African solutions for African problems. If we train more midwives, we will save many, many lives.
Let us all Stand Up For African Mothers.
Dr. Teguest Guerma, an Ethiopian national, medical doctor and infectious diseases specialist, was appointed Director General of AMREF in June 2010.She is the first African woman to lead the organization since its inception in 1957. Dr. Guerma has enjoyed an extensive career in public health and over 26 years experience with the World Health Organization (WHO). Prior to AMREF, Dr. Guerma worked as the Associate Director of the HIV/AIDS department for the WHO in Geneva where she was responsible for their overall strategy on HIV/AIDS.
The African Medical & Research Foundation, (AMREF) is the largest African-led health development organization on the continent providing training and health services to over 30 African countries. www.standupforafricanmothers.com