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Midwives That Do More

Stella, the head midwife in a rural clinic in Africa, helps deliver a baby with a U.S. Army Reserve nurse

We all know that midwives help safely bring newborns into the world. In fact, I was brought into the world with the help of a midwife back in 1978. I was a home-birthed baby born in a house in Woodstock, NY, with the help of a midwife named Morningstar. I kid you not. My parents were bonafide hippies. Heck, how do you think I ended up with the name “Aela?” So, naturally, I have a huge respect for midwives.

Midwives are some of the most special people on the planet. Their hearts are akin to those of nurses and special-education teachers, to soldiers and soup-kitchen workers. Selfless and sacrificing. And while they’re well known for helping bring babies into the world, who knew they were also working so hard to change the world?


Nigeria is country that is ranked 14th in the world for highest birthrates, 16th in the world for highest infant mortality rates, and 9th in the world for highest maternal mortality rates. The country has a fertility rate of over 5 children for every woman, and over 26 percent of the country’s children are underweight. But thanks to a new initiative that places midwives in the most at-risk communities in Nigeria, these numbers have a chance to change — and women and children there have a greater chance of surviving.

Essentially, these midwives are doing much more than helping bring life into the world; they are helping keep life in the world.

According to a study recently shared with PLoS Medicine and released by a group of Nigerian researchers from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in Abuja and their Federal Ministry of Health, sending midwives to rural areas of Nigeria to provide critical obstetrics care has improved the health of mothers, newborns, and children there. Essentially, these midwives are doing much more than helping bring life into the world; they are helping keep life in the world.

The program, called the Midwife Service Scheme, places recently graduated, unemployed, and retired midwives in rural, otherwise difficult-to-reach areas or under-served communities. Its goal, according to the Nigerian government, is to improve the overall quality of health and strengthen the abilities of health care workers caring for these women and their children.

Politically, it’s a bold move for Nigeria, which is a country that only granted rights to “every Nigerian,” including women, in its 1999 constitution. Women there have historically and systematically been kept at a disadvantage and considered inferior. In fact, Nigerian women are often “humiliated and accused of being responsible for the deaths of their children.” So this program to utilize midwives and actually reach out to women who are in dire need of medical help is seemingly simple, yet it is an amazingly and powerfully new step for this country. It both helps save the lives of mothers, babies, and children, and it also signifies a changing culture.

After one year of the program running, its effectiveness was deemed “uneven” in the six geopolitical regions it served. But that isn’t stopping the program’s momentum from plowing onward. This measure will be continued and further developed to reach more women and save more lives. It is the first of its kind in Africa, and is serving as a model for other underdeveloped countries as a way to “reduce the inequities that exist” in health care.

And it has got the strong hands, smart minds, and caring hearts of midwives to thank for it.

Source: PLoS Medicine
Source: CIA World Factbook
Source: International Humanist and Ethical Union

Click here to find out how you can help save mothers around the world with a clean birth kit
Photo: Maj. Corey Schultz, via US Army Africa on Flickr

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