As the world commemorates the achievements of women in the field of science both academically and professionally during the International Day of Women in Science, MamaYe Malawi meets women who have devoted their passion and time to maternal health.
Malawi is a country that is lagging behind in having women who have excelled in the field of science as it is often regarded as a subject just for men. Many women shun away from the subject simply because they fear that it is a difficult subject.
But some have defied all odds and achieve great things, especially in health. They are using their passion and skills to make a difference in the field of health, especially in maternal health care.
One such lady is Nancy Kamwendo, a community nurse health midwife specialist, holding a Master’s degree in community nursing and midwifery. She is also the National Coordinator of White Ribbon Alliance which is working to support the reduction of maternal and newborn mortality through advocacy to promote midwifery.
Nancy has been in the field of health throughout her career and she told me that one of the joys of working in this profession is to see a happy mother after delivering.
"Maternal health is a nice field to work in. You see a mother come in pregnant, you assist her, she delivers and she goes home happy. So, the mother, the father and family are all happy. That is the best part!", explained Nancy when I sat down with her for a chat.
Neema Uzeni Phiri is another great woman who has risen up the academic and career ladder and dedicated her life to the promotion of women’s health in the country. She is Senior Nursing Officer at Lilongwe District Health Office working at Bwaila Maternity Unit says despite the joys of working at the maternity wing, they still face a number of challenges in carrying out their duties.
Bwaila is the busiest hospital in Malawi, delivering an average of 50 babies a day but facing problems with bed space; some mothers deliver on the floor, exposing them to infections.
"The mothers deliver on cloths or black paper they have brought as they can’t control traffic and this does expose them to infections and a number of other challenges too", says Neema. She further explains that the hospital lacks a number of equipment and resources which affect their health service delivery.
"The hospital does not have adequate staff to monitor the women and the hospital also has challenges with equipment and resources such as gloves and bp machines. The staff have to go around looking for the equipment and affects them to monitor the mothers in good time", explains Neema.
On the issue of the shortage of bedside midwives, Nancy gives a startling figure as the country struggles with the crippling staff shortage. She says the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends one midwife per 175 childbearing women. But the situation is very different here in Malawi.
"White Ribbon Alliance did a survey and discovered that one midwife is looking after a thousand women which is a very challenging thing. So a midwife can be at a health facility alone looking after the labouring woman, the postnatal woman and the newborn. And this woman is expected to perform wonders alone", says Nancy.
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Nancy further applauds MamaYe Malawi on the work the campaign is doing in producing evidence which they share with White Ribbon Alliance and they use it to advocate and sensitise the communities.
We use the evidence to sensitise the communities on why they should go early for labour and delivery, why they should access skilled birth attendants. We tell them the indicators which have been produced by MamaYe.
explains Nancy. But at the end of it all, what do these women want to see as in this fight against maternal death? For Nancy Kamwendo it is to see midwives using evidence, statistics and indicators which will help them to work more.
We say we have improved on skilled health workers but we still have high maternal mortality rate and neonatal mortality rates are still there. So as midwives we should use the evidence that is there and find ways to improve on the indicators.
As for Neema Uzeni Phiri she would like to see the midwives working in an environment where there are adequate resources and is clean. MamaYe Malawi appreciates the role all women in science are doing especially when it comes to maternal issues. It has seen the passion and dedication of women in this field and the many sacrifices they make in ensuring that a mother goes back home a happy mother with a healthy baby.