During our most recent trip to Tanzania, our team had the opportunity to meet with several women who serve as midwives and birth attendants in their villages and those immediately surrounding them. Although these women have had very little access to initial education or ongoing training, they attend the births of any woman who has need of their support.
Though you wouldn’t know it when talking with these amazing women, the challenges facing these birth workers, as well as others in similar settings throughout the developing world, are astronomical.
In the West, we imagine birth taking place in one of a couple settings. Many likely picture a clean hospital room with full access to doctors and nurses, sterile instruments, medications, clean newborn supplies, and an available surgical center where necessary interventions can take place. But this is simply not the case for the women living in rural villages.
In these villages, the midwives are lucky to have spare cloth to wrap the baby in after he’s born. They have little-to-no access to the supplies that keep birth safe for either the birthing mother or her baby. Basics like a sterile instrument to cut the umbilical cord, string or clamps to tie off the cord to prevent blood loss, and medications to prevent or treat hemorrhaging after birth are not available. These birth workers serve the women who can’t access clinical care because they lack the finances, transportation or access to such services, all without formal education in many cases.
In rural regions throughout the developing world, especially in villages, healthcare education and training are extremely difficult to access, if not impossible. But the need in these areas is great.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, “approximately 800 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. This is about one woman every two minutes. For every woman who dies, between 20 and 30 will experience injuries, infections or disabilities. Most of these deaths and injuries are entirely preventable.”
In many cases, these preventable deaths take place for two reasons: lack of education and lack of resources.
Oftentimes, midwives, or traditional birth attendants as these women are sometimes called, may receive a few weeks of basic training but then spend their lives learning by doing. These years of experience can make many rural midwives as skilled as some fully trained professionals! And yet, without access to a complete midwifery education that includes holistic maternal prenatal care, and the ability to diagnose and treat common pregnancy-related illness, the risk of both maternal and infant death continue to rise.
The scenario we learned of in Mwabusiga, Tanzania was particularly challenging for both pregnant women and anyone needing healthcare in general due to a severe drought and borderline famine taking place in an agricultural community. Low rainfall led to a lack of crops, which meant there was no food and little water for the village residents. This also meant that income was non-existent and many had no way to pay for their medical care; care which must be paid in advance of treatment in village hospitals. Being turned away while in need of care is something we in the West have likely never faced.
We were so moved to hear of the incredible work these midwives are doing. Because of their willingness to serve sacrificially in their communities, countless lives have been saved!
During our discussion with these women, I asked what needs they’re facing. Some very basic needs like string to tie off the umbilical cord and bicycles to help them get to women faster than they can on foot came up. But the main need these women have is training. At this point in Mwabusiga and in the surrounding villages, there is very little that can be done to help women & their babies either prenatally or in the event of an emergency during or after birth.
The more I discussed the common issues facing these women, the more I realized how valuable simple training would be not only to them, but to the women and families they’re serving. There is currently no model for ongoing training for the women who feel called to serve in this capacity, so the training they have access to is simply what can be shared by someone more experienced in a moment. To me, this fact makes these women heroes. And yet, I have to wonder if there is more to be done.
CFC’s ongoing relationship with the pastors and leaders in this and other villages has allowed us the opportunity to have discussions like the one I mentioned above, and we are prayerfully considering how we might further invest in the birth workers in the future.
We know equipping people with skills to serve their communities is one of the ways we can have a lasting impact, and an amazing way to disciple men and women along the way, so we will continue to follow the Lord’s leadership as we seek to train leaders.
Point of prayer: Pray for the birth workers and healthcare providers in Mwabusiga and surrounding villages and for pregnant women and their families. Pray for the future impact of CFC and other Christ-centered organizations’ work to equip and empower those who seek to serve.