07/31/2012 08:55 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2012

Dying to Give Life: The Paradox of Childbirth in the Motherland

I recently met with Dr. Teguest Guerma, the Director General of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) at the national launch of AMREF USA's Global Campaign: Stand Up for African Mothers. The Campaign which has been initiated in countries around the world including the United Kingdom and France, seeks to mobilize global citizens to support AMREF's basic position that: childbirth should be a joyful experience and "no child should be left an orphan and no mother should have to die to give life."

A little over 100 years ago, childbirth was one of the leading causes of death for women in the United States. Since then, we have drastically reduced the numbers of maternal mortality, so I find it unconscionable that in today's modern world, one in every sixteen African women is at risk for dying in childbirth. Each year in sub-Saharan Africa, 200,000 women die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth (World Health Organization) and 950,000 children were orphaned due to maternal mortality in 2010 alone (AMREF).

The Stand Up For African Mother's Campaign seeks to stem the tide of these dismal statistics in two ways:

  • By training 15,000 midwives by 2015, to deliver adequate medical care to women living in Africa. One skilled midwife is able to provide care for 500 mothers every year and safely deliver 100 babies. 15,000 additional midwives by 2015 will ultimately help over 7 million African women each year during delivery and with prenatal and postnatal care.
  • Through the symbolic nomination of AMREF trained Ugandan midwife, Esther Madudu for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. AMREF's goal is to collect one million signatures from around the world to proclaim support for African mothers and to give both mothers and midwives a voice with governments and international organizations.

While the Campaign welcomes support from everyone, Dr. Guerma makes a special appeal to African Americans, African immigrants and other members of the African Diaspora community to contribute to their own health welfare by supporting the Campaign. Here's how you can you help:

  1. Make a donation. No amount is too small. This is your opportunity to practice what I call 'Everyday Philanthropy' and to give from your heart to a worthy cause and support those in need, be it at the one dollar level or one million dollar level, it is all significant.
  2. Sign the online petition at to stand up for Esther Madudu's candidacy for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Every signature brings the Campaign closer to its goal of one million supporters who recognize the vital work of midwives in preventing maternal mortality.
  3. Create an event or start a club to raise money within your community or place of work.

For the last eight straight years AMREF has received the highest rating from Charity Navigator (America's largest independent charity evaluator). With 55 years experience, the organization's strength lies in its practice of transforming communities from within. AMREF is the largest African-led health development organization in Africa providing health services to over 30 countries on the continent. It has one million community health workers on the ground and is comprised of 97% Africans who are serving fellow Africans. Founded in 1957 as the Flying Doctors of East Africa to provide critical health care to remote communities, AMREF now focuses on preventative, community based health care.

The following is an interview segment with AMREF General Director, Dr. Teguest Guerma.

Why has AMREF decided to focus on training midwives for this Campaign?

Dr. Guerma: This Campaign is something global which unites all the AMREF offices around the issue of maternal mortality. Our contribution is to train midwifes since we have obstetrics care experience. African's need more skilled midwives and help to change the behavior of the women in the community to seek health services. The community worker is the bridge between the women and the health services. They inform and encourage them to get prenatal care.

How long does it take to train a midwife?

Dr. Guerma: Midwife training depends on the country. Some countries like a registered midwife, which takes 2 years training. Others would like a community midwife which takes less time, so midwife training is adapted to the needs of each country.

When will the trainings start?

Dr. Guerma: The trainings started in 2012. We will soon have a midwife meter on our website that will allow you to see where we are with the midwife trainings.

Other than donating money and signing the petition, how else would you ask us in the U.S. to support the Campaign?

Dr. Guerma: Spread the word! There are so many things you can do. Someone may say, " I will organize a big fundraiser for Stand Up For African Mothers," others may say, "our organization needs to work with yours and leverage our expertise to do something better." There can be a list of things that can be done. We want you to be the champion of this Campaign. If people know about it many ideas can come up.

For example we have this partnership with the private sector in France, this group of private companies created a club to support the Campaign. They are going to have a fund. We can have a Stand Up For the African Mother Fund in the U.S. The ideas are so many, we need to want to do something and then it comes. Many things can be done!

Is this a woman's issue?

It takes two to make a baby. I want to see the men get involved. [To the men I say] You have a mother and a sister and an aunt and you want them to deliver safely. So you need to be committed to this. This is very important. We need to get men involved in everything we do because it's only together we can change the world. I believe very much in this.

How is AMREF different from other organizations in Africa?

Dr. Guerma: AMREF is there where no one else is the very rural places and remote areas were very few organizations will go. Wherever we are working we have to drive kilometers and kilometers on non-paved roads because this is where all of the problems are. The controversy in all of this is Africa is the richest continent. We have everything to prosper yet still we have all of these problems.

How does AMREF work in African communities?

Dr. Guerma: We try a new intervention and when we see it works, we take it to the Minister of Health of the country and it influences policy because our practices are evidence-based and they work and also because AMREF is very much trusted in that country. We are the only organization that takes the experiences from the community level to a national level to change policy. This is very important. Some examples include our HIV Testing Model in Tanzania and a Personal Hygiene and Health Model in Kenya.

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