By: Madeline Taskier, Partnership Coordinator at Women Deliver
In the Caribbean island nation of Haiti, almost 1 in 93 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, making it the country with the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. Compared to its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, in which 99 percent of women deliver with the help of a skilled birth attendant (SBA), only 26 percent of Haitian women deliver with a SBA. After the disastrous earthquake in Port au Prince last year, the number of women able to give birth in facilities with SBAs has decreased due to poor transportation access and a significant ‘brain drain’ of Haitian midwives.
In 2006, Nadene Brunk, a US-based nurse-midwife, traveled to Haiti on a medical mission trip. She returned as a different woman eager to help the thousands of Haitian women who were giving birth without access to trained health workers. She created Midwives for Haiti, a non-profit organization which works to ensure access for all Haitian women to SBAs and prenatal care by training and cultivating a cohort of SBAs to work in rural villages, prenatal clinics, and mobile clinics in Haiti’s central plateau region.
Having a skilled birth attendant present during birth and the period leading up to delivery is critical in the reduction of maternal deaths. Research has shown that a health worker trained to recognize and manage pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or anemia can increase the likelihood of survival for both the mother and her child.
In an effort to expedite the training process and get more midwives into the field, Midwives for Haiti spends 11 months training Haitian women in a program certified by the Haitian Ministry of Health. Since the program’s inception in 2007, over 300 US and Canadian midwives have volunteered to train the students in addition to the two Haitian midwives who run the training at the program site in Hinche, Haiti. Over the last four years there have been 30 auxiliare sage femmes (ASF) graduates, all of whom are employed in various hospitals and health centers across Haiti.
The program also seeks to reach the most rural communities by providing prenatal health services with their mobile health unit which travels to 16 villages in the central plateau. The custom made vehicle is staffed by a trained midwife and reaches 1,200 pregnant women per year who live one hour or more from the nearest hospital.
In January 2011, 15 new students enrolled in the midwifery training program and hospitals across the region have already begun requesting the program’s graduates to join their health centers. Nadene Brunk, founder and executive director, believes that if Midwives for Haiti can expand “to have enough sites in Haiti, that every woman can have access to a skilled birth attendant. It’s going to take a while, but we’re going to have more midwifery schools and students in them. Women recognize that this is an important training to get because they all know someone who has died from complications in pregnancy.”
As Midwives for Haiti expands their reach through partnerships and adds to their alumni base, the organization becomes an important force empowering Haitian women to help their communities and transforming the health workforce.