Nam women lobby for health training reforms
Windhoek ‑Namibian women living in rural areas have appealed to the government, especially health authorities, to include traditional birth attendants (midwives) in the national health training programmes, saying that doing so would lead to improved maternal and infant health care.
Rural women, who attended the just-ended Rural Women Parliament that was organised by the National Council, noted that providing formal training to traditional midwives would help curb the maternal mortality rate, which is escalating in the country.
They said many women in remote parts of Namibia turn to traditional midwives for antenatal services, as there are no other alternatives. Recent World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates indicate that up to half a million women die each year around the world because of complications of pregnancy or childbirth.
The majority of these occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. WHO defines maternal mortality as death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.
The WHO says progress in maternal health is hampered by health systems that are understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed and thus too fragile and fragmented to deliver the required level or quality of care.
Consequently, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are still struggling to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child and maternal mortality by 2015.
The increase in maternal and child mortalities in Namibia has been attributed to teenage pregnancies, inadequate human resources, the high rates of HIV/AIDS, harmful cultural practices, long distances to health centres and malnutrition.
The role of traditional birth attendants has been a subject of intense debate in the country over the decades. And the subject was among issues discussed during the Second Rural Women Parliament, held in the National Council chambers.
A representative from the Otjozondjupa region stressed during the debate on February 6, that women in rural areas turn to traditional midwives for antenatal services since they cannot access the same services at formal health facilities.
Maria Johannes said lack of nurses and doctors in the rural areas is one of the factors why women tend to seek assistance from the traditional midwives. Speaking through an interpreter, Johannes said although it is uncommon for a woman to die in the hands of a traditional midwife, there is need for such people to be equipped with advanced skills on how to take “care of the mother before, during and after childbirth in order to save the lives of women and newborn babies.
“I think it’s better to train traditional midwives that are living in our rural areas rather than having women giving birth under the trees while on the way to the nearest clinic or hospital,” Johannes said.
“It is better if the government can train some of these women and men to assist where the health practitioners cannot be able to attend on time.”
Aina Nekundi from Omusati region lamented that losing a baby or mother during delivery is unacceptable, adding that providing traditional birth attendants with formal training would greatly improve maternal and newborn health care.
Namibia has made notable efforts to curb maternal mortality. The several measures have been put in place to improve maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality.
First Lady Penehupifo Pohamba has been in the forefront to improve maternal health care, which led to the construction of maternity shelters at state health centres for expectant mothers.
Women, who live in remote areas move into the shelters near hospitals while awaiting delivery. Assistance is also handy when they go into labour or develop antenatal complications, as they can be transferred to the maternity ward for monitoring and safe delivery. Last year, the Ministry of Health and Social Services in collaboration with the Office of First Lady and assisted by the World Health Organisation have launched the Programme for Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal and Child Mortality (PARMaCM) to combat mother and child mortality in Namibia.