Growing up, Mary Gorret Musoke, later nicknamed “Mama Maria,” was the only girl in her village in Uganda to receive more than a basic education. Her older brother wisely lobbied their father, who relented and allowed Mama Maria to attend school.
Education changed the trajectory of Mama Maria’s life and consequently empowered her to make women the focus of her life’s work. Today, she is a midwife, health advocate and successful businesswoman running a growing midwifery practice. She is also an advisor to the Ugandan Ministry of Health on how to make sure women in her country receive lifesaving, high quality maternal health services wherever they seek care.
Simply put, Mama Maria is one of my heroes.
She is also one of the strongest assets we have in ending preventable maternal deaths – the tragic death of a woman from complications of pregnancy or childbirth.
Although there has been great progress in reducing maternal mortality, we are not where we should be. As we strive to lower maternal mortality rates, we need to focus on improving the quality of care that pregnant women receive. And to do that, we need to ensure that private midwives like Mama Maria are equipped to deliver the best care possible.
Around the world, 40 percent of women in low- and middle-income countries receive maternal and family planning care from local private health providers, including midwives. In fact, midwives are often heralded as the “key to family planning, a safe pregnancy and childbirth.” According to the World Health Organization, investing in strengthening midwifery services and education can result in a 16-fold return in terms of lives saved and costs of caesarean sections avoided.
In Uganda, a country that still has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, Mama Maria is one of countless locally-based private midwives meeting the needs of her community. In spite of their vital role serving pregnant women and delivering babies, private midwives are still an overlooked part of the healthcare system.
This begs the question: if local private midwives are so integral to saving women’s lives, how can we recognize their contributions, invest in their work and support them? Mama Maria’s story offers several compelling approaches for the global health community to consider.
Early in her career as a midwife in Uganda’s public health system, Mama Maria witnessed appalling conditions. Just imagine pregnant women helping other pregnant women give birth, often on the floor because there weren’t enough beds. She believed that women deserved better and she vowed then that she would open her own private practice one day where she could provide women with “quality, dignified care.”
She realized she could benefit more women if she had training in accounting to manage her finances as well as resources to help her hire staff, expand services, stock up on essential medicines and upgrade facilities. She also realized that training in administering maternal health services could help improve the quality of care she provided.
Mama Maria’s business, the Maria Maternity Ward, is part of a franchise of private midwives called ProFam (operated by PACE, the Ugandan affiliate of PSI). Through this network and along with support from Merck for Mothers, Merck’s global 10-year initiative to end preventable maternal deaths, Mama Maria and other private providers receive clinical training in maternal health – including emergency obstetric care and postpartum family planning – as well as non-clinical training to strengthen their operations and management skills so they can improve their businesses.
Now, the Maria Maternity Ward helps at least one woman give birth every day and immunizes 100 children each month. Mama Maria is also the president of the Ugandan Private Midwives Association where she advocates for increasing opportunities for young midwives in Uganda so that no woman is left behind.
In summary, she’s incredible.
On International Day of the Midwife, I’m celebrating women like Mama Maria who go to great lengths to improve the well-being of their communities and equip others with the tools they need to engender change.
Mama Maria and countless others have been critical to advancing our vision – to illustrate their impact we created a virtual reality video, Inside Impact: All for Mothers, to bring to life the critical role midwives play in their communities educating, supporting and shepherding women through the journey of pregnancy and childbirth.
Truly, we should be celebrating these women every day as well as supporting them and drawing inspiration from their work. Let’s honor their efforts to deliver care to families who need it most, and commemorate them for the extraordinary part they play strengthening their communities. I hope women like Mama Maria galvanize us all to remember the crucial contribution midwives make as we develop solutions with the goal of creating a world where no woman dies while giving life.
Mary-Ann Etiebet, MD, MBA is the Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, Merck’s 10-year, $500 million initiative to reduce preventable maternal mortality worldwide. – Learn more at: http://merckformothers.com. Follow Dr. Etiebet on Twitter at @MEtiebetMD