By Muchengeti Kehle
Meet Esther Madudu, a 32 year old midwife, who works in a health centre in Atiriri, in Eastern Uganda. She is the face of AMREF’s Stand Up for African Mothers campaign. In an interview for CNN’s African Voices, she highlights the plight of mothers and their newborn babies during childbirth. Sub-Saharan Africa is plagued by high levels of maternal and neonatal mortality rates to such an extent that giving birth is still considered one of the more dangerous experiences for both the mother and child.
Esther’s interview sheds some light on the conditions in which midwives throughout much of rural Africa work in. Lack of electricity and a regular water supply greatly compromise the sanitation of rural maternal clinics. In her interview Esther walks us through the maternal ward and shares some of the sanitary procedures her co-midwives have adopted to keep their ward clean and safe. Esther has been travelling the world holding interviews and raising awareness for the Stand Up for African Mother’s campaign and this resulted in the donation of a solar powered briefcase by Dr Laura Stachel of WeCareSolar to assist with the lighting in the ward. Something that has made a large impact on Esther’s work.
Outside of Esther’s clinic, there are practices such as early marriages and unsafe abortions, which if reduced or stopped may help in alleviating the high maternal mortality rates. Malawi, for instance, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region (and world). 80% of its population is found in the rural areas and half of Malawian women get married before the age of 18 which results in increased sexual activity and greater incidence of pregnancy compared to unmarried adolescents. According to the Malawi Demographic Health Survey young women (below the age of 20) are more likely, than those aged 20-40, to die or lose their child as a result of childbirth. Adolescent pregnancies account for 25% of all births and 20% of maternal deaths. Another contributing factor to high maternal mortality rates is unsafe abortions, which account for over 30% of the maternal deaths. The majority of those dying from the complications of unsafe abortions are teenagers. It is imperative that as we celebrate the Day of the African Child we seek to end such practices that put the lives of young mothers and their children in danger.
Esther campaigns for more trained midwives and better equipped health centres, as well as males to understand that they have a role to play during pregnancy because “it takes two to make baby”. In the interview Esther discusses how the pain of losing a child at birth spurs her forward so that no other woman has to suffer the same fate. True to her word, no woman has died during childbirth in over four years of Esther’s tenure at Atiriri. In Malawi, President Joyce Banda in an effort to curb maternal mortality rates has launched the Presidential Initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood which is headed by Chief Kwataine. Chief Kwataine, like Esther understands the need for trained midwives and more maternity clinics inorder to reduce the distance pregnant women have to travel to seek prenatal care. Already the situation in Malawi is showing signs of improvement.
Africa remains a largely rural continent and most of the burden associated with maternal health is concentrated in rural areas which is why educating women and midwives is key in delivering better prenatal and neonatal services. Conditions for expectant mothers should be made safer. Every African mother and her unborn child deserves life, giving birth should not mean risking death.