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Last month, I was in Ethiopia again. This time I visited the Dr. Tewelde Legesse Health Science College in Mekelle. The college was a buzz of activity the day I was there. In three large classrooms, groups of 24 soon-to-graduate midwives sat riveted as trainers used a variety of anatomical models and equipment to teach them basic emergency obstetric care skills. It was the first time in their three years of study that these students had learned practical skills with models and had the opportunity to practice procedures such as inserting catheters and postabortion care. They knew these were the kind of skills they would soon need when they were out of the classroom and faced with real women not mannequins.
As I sat in room watching this, I was surprised to see that in each training group, nearly a third or more of the students were men. During a tea break I spoke to one of them, Gebre Amlakmam. As we were chatting, I asked him why he decided to become a midwife. Gebre told me a story about how he nearly lost a sister because she had a complicated delivery and how the situation turned life-threatening because there was no skilled birth attendant in their village. He said he was grateful that his sister and her child survived, but the experience made him realize how important it is for all women to have a skilled birth attendant.
Gebre talked, too, about how much he appreciates the training and the skills it offers him to help women like his sister. When talking about the work with anatomical models he said, “It really gives one confidence when one has a chance to practice procedures on a life-size model. I’ve learned a lot of theory, but this is the first time I get to put it to practice.”
This training is part of IntraHealth’s Community PMTCT program, which is lead by Dr Bizunesh Tesfaye. She is working alongside a team of 12 trainers to offer a 21-day training for midwives in three regions in Ethiopia. Working off the national curriculum approved by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, this project aims to train over 280 midwives in six months. After the training, a mentor will offer on the job mentoring and training at all the sites where these newly trained midwives will work.
Today, in Ethiopia there is only one midwife for every 57,300 people. This shortage of midwives in Ethiopia is one of the most dire in addition to the dearth of medical doctors and anesthetists. In response to the pressing needs, the Ministry of Health along with its partners aims to increase the number of well-equipped health facilities from 2,600 to 3,200 and is training large numbers of health professionals as midwives including women and men like Gebre, which is a lifesaving endeavour as Gebre can attest.
Ethiopia News Agency. Ethiopia to Cut Maternal and Infant Mortality Drastically in Five Years. January 22, 2011. Ethiopia Ministry of Health: Addis Ababa.
Community Prevention of Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission Project is led by IntraHealth International and funded by USAID.
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