Catherine Ojo has seen more than her fair share of preterm infants in the 28 years she’s been a midwife in northern Nigeria. Every year, more than 250,000 newborns die in her country of largely preventable causes according to Save the Children — that’s over 1,400 stillbirths and neonatal deaths each day. In fact, Nigeria has the highest number of annual newborn deaths in Africa, and the fourth highest of any country in the world.
After repeatedly saving the life of one premature baby, Ojo, a winner of a 2011 Save the Children Midwife Award, knew she had to do something to broaden prenatal and neonatal care in Nigeria, so she started the Special Care Baby Unit at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, in the city of Zaria. Almost 90 percent of women give birth at home in her region, so she trains others in vital aspects of newborn care, including CPR and preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission.
“We need to know that midwives are important in any society,” Ojo says. Watch this video and listen Ojo’s compelling narrative about what it means to be a midwife in Nigeria.
Madina Rashida of Afghanistan also received a 2011 Save the Children Midwife Award for the work she’s doing in her rural village to convince more men to allow their pregnant wives to go to clinics for skilled help, and to encourage the women themselves to do so.
Afghanistan, where 1 in 11 women die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, is the world’s most dangerous country to be a mother. And it’s so dangerous for women to be involved in family planning that we can’t show you the video Save the Children put together about Rashida’s remarkable work as a midwife, and the way in which she’s mobilizing her community by breaking old beliefs, nor mention exactly where she lives for fear it could put her in danger. Over the past two years Rashida has supported hundreds of women both at the village health facility and in the community at large.
We can, however, show you this photo of Rashida with one of her charges:
Expanding midwifery services could help save millions of lives — so much so that researchers believe that up to 3.6 million maternal and infant deaths could be avoided each year if more midwives were in place — especially in the areas of greatest need like sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, as Care2 blogger Amelia Thomson-Devaux recently wrote, the United Nations Population Fund released a new report last month that specifically calls for “more and better trained” midwives. With a global shortage of an estimated 3.5 million health workers according to the World Health Organization, midwives are key to reducing maternal and infant deaths, especially in resource-challenged areas.
Save the Children estimates 1.3 million newborn babies’ lives could be saved if midwives were at al births and had the right training and health system support.
“Birth is the time of highest risk for new mothers and for babies, said Dr. Joy Lawn of Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program. “These awards highlight the vital role that midwives play in saving lives. We need many more midwives, especially those with the commitment of Madina and Catherine, to make sure that no woman, anywhere in the world has to give birth alone.”
Photos and video courtesy of Save the Children