In Ethiopia’s Sidama zone, a lush, green region dotted with oval-shaped huts, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs a maternal health project in the Chire and Mejo divisions (known as woredas).
Expectant mother Widinesh Legabo’s village is 20 kilometers [about 12 miles] from the administrative town of Mejo. Widinesh, 32, has already gone through five challenging pregnancies, with long hours of labor, extensive bleeding, and extreme shock during child birth. All told, Widinesh has given birth to eight babies, including three pairs of twins. She delivered all of them at home with traditional birth attendants.
She had her first child at the age of 16. Each subsequent delivery has been difficult and dangerous. “Once I even went through a terrible six-day labor,” she recalls. “I was suffering day and night. The cheerful voices of children playing out in the open and the sound of mooing cows outside that I always liked became unbearable. I wanted to lie still and forget that I was alive. The pain was unbearable."
Widinesh’s story is a common one among the women at the Mothers’ Waiting Houses in Chire and Mejo. “The maternity waiting houses have two major purposes: to bring expectant mothers living in distant villages closer to health facilities before delivery and to closely monitor women with a history of complications in the later stages of pregnancy in order to respond quickly to any complications before or during delivery,” explains Girma Fikru, an MSF nurse in Sidama.
Most of the women are referred to the waiting houses by MSF outreach teams that travel to remote villages in the region to conduct medical consultations and provide treatment, including vaccinations, while also offering health education to women of childbearing age. What's more, MSF, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, has set up a 24-hour ambulance service to help women reach the nearest health centers during emergencies.
Access to antenatal and postnatal care services is crucial to preventing infant and maternal mortality, and staff have been heartened to see more and more women coming to the facilities to deliver their babies. Since the inception of the project, MSF has conducted a total of 12,027 antenatal and postnatal consultations. At the health center in Mejo, MSF has assisted with 1,248 successful deliveries, and 771 at Chire.