Midwives are often on the frontlines of health care in developing countries, delivering crucial patient-centered care to women and their families during childbirth and supporting families during pregnancy and after delivery. In East Africa, midwives and nurses make up almost 85% of the health workforce – and in many communities they are the only point of care.
How are midwives addressing global health challenges? To answer that question, Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) teamed up with Wendy Wood from the Canadian Association of Midwives to bring the annual University Seminar Series to more than 300 students at the University of Saskatchewan, University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, and Seneca College during October 2018.
While the nuts and bolts of midwifery are the same all over the world, Wendy – a Canadian midwife whose work has also taken her to Tanzania and Ethiopia to train East African midwives on emergency skills and neonatal resuscitation – recounted some stark differences between the East African and Canadian contexts. During one particular training, she asked Ethiopian midwives whether they would choose to use a metal or silicone vacuum in cases when a baby does not come quickly enough. She expected that they would choose the silicone vacuum, a slower and somewhat less effective tool but results in less trauma to mom and baby, and the obvious choice for a Canadian midwife.
Yet every one of the East African midwives chose the metal vacuum. Because of the limited advanced healthcare options available, the Ethiopian midwives could not risk the chance that the silicone vacuum would not work in time.
According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths in the developing world are preventable, but barriers such as the number of health care practitioners, remoteness, poor nutrition, and poverty impede access to proven, effective interventions.
But we have a solution: a 2014 report by the United Nations Population Fund found that investments in midwifery can yield a 16-fold return. The Aga Khan Development Network has long recognized this potential: it has dedicated significant resources to training and supporting midwives in Africa and Asia – including the establishment of the Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery more than 30 years ago. The longstanding partnership with Canada and Canadians has made many of those investments possible.
- Watch this video to learn more about how Canadian support to midwives, like Zahida in northern Pakistan, has led to dramatic improvements in women’s and children’s health.