A motherless baby begins life at a disadvantage. In addition to missing maternal love, the baby is at risk for malnourishment, infection and a host of other problems. My skills as a midwife are vital to saving the lives of mothers every day, but they also go beyond delivering babies. I help to educate women with proper healthcare information and campaign for maternal health to be prioritized.
I was only a young child the first time my grandmother, a traditional birth attendant in rural Uganda, allowed me to watch her assist a mother giving birth. That was the moment I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to bringing babies into the world.
Little did I know then that many mothers die during childbirth. Having been a midwife now for over 12 years, I also know that most of these mothers do not have to die. With a skilled midwife present at birth, over 90 percent of maternal deaths can be prevented.
But maternal mortality remains a heavy burden in sub-Saharan Africa where around 162,000 mothers die every year, leaving close to one million African children motherless. The reason is that 40 percent of African women do not receive basic prenatal care, and more than half of all deliveries take place at home without medical assistance.
Pregnant mothers who do receive medical care often have to walk great distances to get to a facility. There are days I have to walk to meet mothers who cannot make it to the health center in rural Uganda where I work, only to find they have already delivered by the time I've arrived. Once I found a woman giving birth next to a swamp because she could walk no further. The baby's head was out and because she was so close to the water she almost drowned the baby.
My heart breaks to watch mothers go through such agonizing pain to give birth. As one of three midwives at the Atiriri Health Centre in Katine, Uganda, I work 13 hours most days and attend up to five births every day. Resources at the health center are scarce. We have no electricity, which makes delivering babies at night a real challenge. We often use candles, kerosene lamps and even light from our cell phones to see the baby coming out or to stop the mother's bleeding.
Even under such trying circumstances, I am happy to say that in the four years that I have been at the health center, no mother has died in childbirth.
This week, I shared my experiences at the Africa Regional Conference of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM). With partners such as the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) and Johnson & Johnson, the ICM conference was an opportunity for African midwives to be recognized and to come together to share best practices, learn new skills and call for stronger health policy and systems for improving midwifery.
Once trained, a single midwife can provide care for 500 women every year, including safe delivery of 100 babies. In its report in April, Missing Midwives, Save the Children estimated that 350,000 more midwives are needed around the world to help reduce maternal and child deaths. But midwifery training is very expensive for most women in Africa.
We need midwives in Africa more than ever before. I am honored to have been chosen by AMREF to be the face of its Stand Up for African Mothers campaign to raise awareness of the plight of African midwives and African mothers. AMREF has set a goal to train 15,000 new midwives by 2015 to reduce maternal death in Africa.
Without significant extra funds and effort, the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to cut death rates among women and children are unlikely to be met in many countries by the 2015 deadline. Please show your support by sending a letter to America's leaders asking them to protect global health funding and increase support for maternal, newborn and child-health programs.Would you consider donating to fund...