Credit: Paolo Patruno, www.birthisadream.org/
Dr. Brook Getahun Asfaw is the only obstetrician-gynecolgist at Jinka Hospital in the South Omo region of southern Ethiopia. The hospital serves more than one million people.
In a country where the vast majority (85%) of women give birth without a skilled attendant, Dr. Asfaw knows how important his job is. In fact, it’s what has kept him in South Omo since he graduated two years ago.
“Ethiopia’s rates of maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality are among the highest in the world,” he says. “One of the most important factors contributing to the high maternal and newborn mortality is the low rate of skilled care during pregnancy and delivery. That’s why I decided to work in Ethiopia, a place where I am needed most.”
That’s also why Amref Health Africa in Canada, with support from the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, started a three-year project December 2011focused on improving the health of mothers and babies in South Omo, one of the most underserved areas of Ethiopia. The project trains health care workers so more mothers and children have access to skilled care givers.
Already, Dr. Asfaw is seeing progress.
Now, basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care is available to pregnant women through recently-trained health workers – something that will help save the lives of women who experience complications during pregnancy or delivery.
Significant challenges still exist, as Dr. Asfaw knows. The leading cause of death for mothers who make it to Jinka Hospital for emergency care is hemorrhaging. The lack of blood storage and transfusion facilities at the hospital and in the region has been a significant constraint in providing emergency care for mothers.
And, that’s not the only challenge, as Dr. Asfaw points out: “Limited human resources, shortages of supplies and equipment for obstetric care, absence of neonatal care unit and postpartum clinics and lack of ambulances to transfer patients to hospital are some of the major problems that make practicing in Jinka a challenge.”
These are the challenges Amref Health Africa’s project is helping to solve by creating ‘neonatal corners’ – a special area inside delivery rooms that is stocked with life-saving equipment – organizing regular health outreach days to provide basic health care, such as immunizing children and purchasing motorcycles so health workers can reach the most remote areas. And, we’ve only just begun.