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Ethiopia: Safe delivery, safe mothers and safe babies

Ideally, pregnant women would be best off getting to a health centre to give birth. It’s a sterile environment where they can be educated about exclusive breastfeeding and the importance of hygiene and sanitation for their newborn baby. If a health centre is too far away (as is so often the case) then maybe the lifeline for so many villages in Ethiopia (where 85% of the population lives in rural areas) is their Health Extension Worker, who could be trained  in carrying out safe deliveries?

Some basic  hygiene training is being rolled out by the Ethiopian government. But health workers will need  more extensive training to diagnose antenatal problems and assist in helping mothers deliver their babies safely – as they’ll reach many more mothers than health centres and vastly more than hospitals. There are just three hospitals in the entire South Wollo district and they’re all in larger towns like Akista (Legambo district) and Dessie – so almost all the population of South Wollo will not be able to access them.

Reaching more mothers

Even then, the ratio for giving birth in a health centre vs at home is 1:15 (national average – so the reality in rural areas like South Wollo, will be higher). This suggests that interventions are so far only reaching  a tiny proportion of mothers due to give birth – and this is why the health workers and community health volunteers are so vital.

At an ambulance handover ceremony in Sayint on Tuesday last week, the South Wollo Deputy Head of Health, Luelsegede, said he felt the key for reducing maternal and newborn mortality in South Wollo was training health workers more extensively in antenatal care and safe delivery, and this seems to be the government’s plan. Long term, the government wants to train more midwives, but this will take time.

We are also researching ‘health-seeking behaviours’ at the moment in five ‘woredas’ [administrative district] in South Wollo – trying to understand for example why many women aren’t using the health centres to give birth – lots of fascinating findings came out of this. The final report is due in mid February – and I’ll post a quick summary of these soon.

Find out more about our work in Ethiopia

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