American generosity improving women’s health in Ethiopia

February 14, 2012 By Sarah Sagely Klotz

Childbirth should be a joyful occasion, when a new life is welcomed into the world.  Instead, in many places in the world it is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do.  Unfortunately, around the globe women are often neglected and have very limited access to maternal care.  Through the generous investments made by many Americans, however, communities in developing countries are yielding substantial and lasting benefits.

In a country like Ethiopia, access to maternal health care is extremely limited. Each year 20,000 women die in childbirth and 77 babies out of 1,000 live births don’t survive.  In America, 99% of women give birth with a skilled health professional while in Ethiopia, only 6% of women give birth with a skilled health professional.  This contrast of access to care is astounding.

I recently traveled with a group of American moms to Bahir Dar, in the northern region of Ethiopia, an area where access to maternal care is almost nonexistent.  The regional hospital, which serves a population of 20 million people, does not have one full-time Ob-Gyn.  While this fact is overwhelming to the senses, we are beginning to witness how private investments are building maternal care capacity and producing tremendous results.

We visited two young midwives, Yingesu and Mantegbosh, who were working at the Agita Health Center, 42 miles from Bahir Dar.  This small clinic is serving a population of 51,000 people.  Both of these midwives were provided scholarships by generous donors who saw their potential and recognized the impact they could make in their communities.  In their first year, they made over 100 deliveries and provided approximately 1,000 women with prenatal care, thus increasing access to maternal care in the region by over 90%.  Yingesu had recently delivered successfully triplets by candlelight.  She said, “My hope for the future is to help my community, and I am proud of my job…I feel fantastic because I can save the lives of women and children!”

In Ethiopia, the cost to educate one midwife is $4,300 per year for four years, but the investment has a multiplying effect.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that “improving the health and status of women and girls acts as a positive multiplier because when women succeed, they lift themselves, they lift their families and their communities along with them.”  These investments made in the lives of women now will bring extensive and lasting results to communities and countries as a whole in the developing world.

Sarah Sagely Klotz is the Executive Director of Hamlin Fistula USA, which supports the work of the Addis Ababa Hamlin Fistula Hospital, the 5 regional fistula hospitals, and the Hamlin College of Midwives.