By: Rose Mlay; Originally posted on White Ribbon Alliance
I was privileged to be one of the invitees to attend a series of high-level events hosted by the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA) Global Secretariat and partner organizations to coincide the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on the 19th-26th September 2012.
The events were meant to amplify the voices of national advocates who are working to improve conditions for mothers and newborns. We spent the first two days with the WRA team, working on our WRA Citizens’ Voice reports - a new experience for me. At the same time we prepared for the panel discussion during the WRA “Wake Up for Maternal Health Breakfast”, an event co-hosted by WRA Global Patron Sarah Brown, Donna Karan and Arianna Huffington. Among others my colleague and I managed to inform the more than 150 women and men including big business people and world leaders concerning the progress made by our countries and barriers towards the achievement of commitments for the 2010 Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health - The Every Woman Every Child Initiative.
The Government of Tanzania has made six commitments, but I focused on the increase of human resource for health in particular increasing enrollment to health training from 5,000 to 10,000 per year by 2015. We are making progress and have reached 7,000 per year. Obviously Tanzania will reach the target for this commitment. Unfortunately, the increase is in other health professions not midwifery, which is a crucial intervention to reduce pregnancy and childbirth related deaths. The numbers of students enrolling for midwifery is dwindling at a steep fall. For example, one of the biggest national nursing/midwifery schools in the country used to enroll 140 students per year in the 1970s. Lately the enrolment to the same school has gone down to 25 students per year. The same applies to private and faith based schools. The problem is first of all, youths are not aware of health courses because such courses were removed from secondary school selection forms. Secondly, youths are not interested because of negative perceptions of midwifery and midwives. Thirdly, many youths do not study science at secondary schools because of lack of science teachers and functioning laboratories.
White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood Tanzania (WRATZ) is campaigning on midwifery as career of choice among secondary school youths. Through young midwife champions, WRATZ members and parliamentarians; the youths are cleared of the negative perceptions of midwifery, requirements needed, how to enroll as well as benefits of becoming a midwife. The few who we encountered were thrilled that they save lives, which a huge contribution to the nation and promised to study to become midwives. I concluded that constant support in kind and financial is required so WRA can continue doing the work in countries such as Tanzania. Participants of the WRA “Wake up for Maternal Health Breakfast” listened attentively and I could tell that they were touched and will consider to support this noble cause, Saving Lives.
I attended several events and all were on how to make life better for women and children. “Every Woman Every Child Reception” was where the United Nations Secretary General, Presidents and Prime Ministers of countries including Liberia, South Africa, Nigeria gave statements on progress made toward the achievement of commitments in support of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, “Every Woman Every Child”, which aims to save lives of 16 million women and children by 2015. Africa has a long way to go; the main barriers stated was access to quality, life saving services related to lack of skilled birth attendants. Dr. Richard Horton stated in a Jhpiego event, “We need to change, why? Because what we are doing is not working fast enough. We are not getting it”, this truth, is the reason we needed the BIG PUSH for without investing in training, recruiting and retaining more professional health workers, especially midwives, it will not be easy to reduce pregnancy and childbirth related deaths.
The United Nations Secretary General also launched Education First, which was his initiative “Education is the single best investment nations can make to build prosperous, healthy and equitable society.” (Ban Ki-Moon, Sept 26, 2012). This is a great initiative for advocates of maternal and children health because through education in particular science subjects, midwives and other health professionals will be available to ensure safe motherhood. Education will reduce childhood pregnancies that count for about 20% of pregnancy related deaths because the girl child will grow-up and value higher learning that will take many years. Education could be equated to contraceptives. Education will reduce home deliveries under unskilled persons, majority of maternal deaths are of the less educated women who give birth at home and may not be informed of causes and contributing factors of maternal deaths. The WRA national coordinator of India stated in an UNFPA event, “It is a criminal not informing women how to avoid delay 1 (delay in deciding when to go to skilled care during labor) and delay 2 (lack of transport arrangement to skilled care during labor) (Aparajita Gogoi, September 23, 2012). Education will improve use of family planning methods because educated couples desire few children. The list of education benefits is long.
Investment in this area is therefore crucial. The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, puts it this way “Everyone agrees that money alone is not the answer, but without increasing the financial resources going into education we will find it very difficult to achieve our aims” (Gordon Brown, September 26, 2012). In support of Aparagita, I would say that women must be informed and empowered to be in control of their health and that of their children and families as a whole. While WRA and other related bodies strive to provide information to communities on safe motherhood, formal systems where quality education is provided for all is an arena where information could be obtained by women.
Since Skilled Birth Attendants in Particular Professional Midwives have been proven the best strategy in reducing maternal newborn and child deaths, I recommend the world invest on Midwifery so every pregnancy is attended by a midwife through to 42 days after childbirth. I like to end with the UN Secretary General 2012 quotation, “Together we want to help the world see and believe in a better future. Mothers and children are at the heart of this future…”
And this is for secondary school youths worldwide. “BE IN SCIENCE, CHOOSE MIDWFERY”