“There’s a false perception that women in Africa somehow don’t love their babies they way we do, don’t grieve their loss the way we would. That is simply not true”. – Melinda Gates
Did you know that every day in 2015 nearly 830 women died giving birth around the globe? Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 550 out of the 830 daily deaths. Ghana has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the region, yet much progress still needs to be achieved in the rural, hard to reach communities where the death among pregnant women remains much higher. Today, in Ghana the maternal mortality rate is 319 out of 100,000 live births as compared with 527 out of 100,000 in 1996 (World Bank). (The 2015 maternal mortality rate in the US is 14 out of 100,000 live births).
The good news is most of these deaths are preventable. By increasing access to health care services for expectant mothers (pre and post natal and labor and delivery by a trained midwife) more women and babies will survive.
Banyan Global, a small women-owned and run international development consulting business has partnered with the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and Ghana Registered Midwives Association to help save the lives of women in Ghana through their Supporting Ghana’s Midwives: Strengthening Maternal and Child Health in Rural Regions Campaign.
The Saving Maternity Homes in Ghana program is one of the US Government’s initiatives combatting maternal and child mortality across the regions of Ghana.
I had the opportunity to speak with Tanya Hurst, Senior Program Coordinator at Banyan Global about her recent trip to Ghana last month to view the work on the ground. Tanya provided the following firsthand narrative of her experience working on the project and visiting the midwives in Ghana:
I was recently reminded that working in the field of international development, assisting men and women that need it most, and having the opportunity to travel the world is a privilege. A privilege that defines itself to a select group. And as an American, an international development professional and an over-landing traveler, I am of that privileged set.
The reality of being a member to that privileged set became a stark reality as I made my way through a rural village in the Western Region. As the landscape of the village continued to reveal itself, clothed in both the depredation of basic needs as well as the bright smiles of individuals hopeful for a better tomorrow – the heartbreaking truth that women in villages much like this one are 22 times more likely to die during childbirth then women in the United States. (World Bank, 2015) And in this day in age – those odds seem much too high to me.
Sitting down with Gladys, midwife and owner of Lydia’s Memorial Maternity Home and Clinic, my desire to take a stand, supporting maternity homes in the rural regions of Ghana to diminish the fears and dark clouds looming over the reality of child birth, by providing quality and modern care, quickly grow from a job to a vested need. She expressed her deepest gratitude for the support she had received from Ghana Registered Midwives Association, enabling her to recognize the gaps her clinic offers to her community, finding solutions to improve her clinic and learning more about how maternal and child practices have modernized and improved over the years. I remember her saying: “It’s helpful (the support) for all the midwives, so we are trying to do the work as they have recommended so that we save the community. Because when the work has been done very well, then the community too [is] happy …”
Gladys like many midwives have set their eyes on a better future for the women, children and families in their community. I just hope that tomorrow, a week from tomorrow and even five years down the road – I remember those afternoons in Ghana encountering a world that is much different from mine, yet not all that far away. While the specific memories will probably fade, I can only hope that my humility does not and the urgent need to lend a hand when I can always remains.
The campaign is working in six regions of Ghana: Brong Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Northern, Volta and Western Regions.
For new and expectant mothers in rural Ghana, safe and supportive medical care can be extremely difficult to find.
While in the capital city of Accra, 82% of women of reproductive age have access to emergency care during and after their pregnancy, in rural regions only one woman out of ten can say the same. For these women, skilled midwives play a vital role.
URBAN vs. RURAL
In rural Ghana, access to a skilled midwife means access to a safe and healthy pregnancy. Where government hospitals and large clinics are not available, the only medical lifeline for millions of pregnant women is the independent maternity home, often staffed with one qualified midwife.
However, midwives in rural regions often lack access to the latest updates on clinical practices that urban midwives enjoy. These types of updates are critical for providing the best possible quality of care. Lack of access to this information puts rural maternity homes – and the local women and children for whom they care – at an even further disadvantage.
That is where the Ghana Registered Midwives Association (GRMA) comes in. GRMA is the main supportive body for Ghana’s independent midwives, and is best positioned to provide regular support and training. Through the practice of conducting “peer support visits,” GRMA helps rural midwives to identify challenges and solutions, and provides updates on the latest clinical practices.
But like the midwives themselves, GRMA suffers from inadequate resources. Occasional funding from foundations or other donors has enabled GRMA to offer peer support visits to rural midwives from time to time, but occasional and inconsistent visits are simply not enough.
How You Can Help
Last week, Banyan Global launched a new campaign to generate support for the dedicated midwives that fight for safe pregnancy and childbirth in Ghana’s rural areas. In recognition of International Women’s Day, the campaign aims at empowering these women by equipping the Ghana Registered Midwives Association with the funds they need to provide supportive supervision to midwives at 15 private maternity homes. With this supervision, midwives can receive feedback and recommendations to ensure that they operate their facilities at full capacity with the optimal quality of care.
This campaign aims to help Ghanaian midwives serving in these underserved regions, and through them, to help rural Ghanaian women and children. Your donation will enable GRMA to provide peer support visits to rural midwives, which will improve the quality of care these midwives provide to every mother and child that comes through their doors. Together, we can support independent midwives in Ghana to make pregnancy, childbirth, and early childhood safe for the women and families of these communities.
To support the campaign click here. The campaign runs now until Tuesday, May 6th on International Midwife Day. All photos were provided by the USAID-funded project Saving Maternity Homes in Ghana