During the 14-year civil war in Liberia, the health system became increasingly fragile, and a lack of roads and transportation made it difficult for pregnant women to receive necessary emergency care. This issue has created a strong need for strengthened midwifery in Liberia.
As a result, Liberia had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world according to a 2015 USAID article, but the country is now trying to change that through investment in midwifery programs.
Currently, 44 percent of Liberian women give birth without a skilled attendant, and nearly one out of 138 mothers die from preventable causes during childbirth. Such issues could be avoided with basic or strengthened midwifery in Liberia, according to the World Health Organization.
Bentoe Tehounge, a trained midwife in Liberia, told WHO, “We need midwives who can ensure a safe pregnancy even before a woman is pregnant. People who can provide advice on family planning, nutrition, physical activity and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.”
There are six midwifery schools in the Liberia, half of which are in rural areas, and less than 200 midwives for over four million people. Most of these midwives work in urban areas. Strengthening these schools, especially the rural ones, will improve access to quality care for women around the country.
Retaining these midwives is one step towards Liberia’s investment in the profession. According to WHO, many health professionals were driven out of the country due to the civil war and the Ebola crisis, and now midwives lack “safe accommodation and transport, are overworked and paid poorly and have limited opportunities for career advancement.”
A new B.S. program addresses a portion of these concerns by providing further professional development. The program graduates 50 to 75 registered midwives per class, which is expected to staff more than 700 health facilities in the country. To develop better teaching methods, Liberia is working with the Danish Midwives Association to pair Liberian and Danish midwives in order to learn more advanced skills, like preventing and treating hemorrhages. It is hoped that this new alliance will result in strengthened midwifery in Liberia.
In the United States, this final element is comparable to the apprenticeships or clinicals that midwives do to obtain a license. Mary Anne Brown, a midwife serving the Great Falls and Helena areas of Montana, said that degree programs require that their students find and work directly with a midwife to gain clinical experience.
Past midwife training in Liberia tried to work within a culture of home birth in Liberia (USAID reported that 63 percent of Liberian women gave birth outside of a health facility) and with the knowledge of traditional midwives.
The goal was to shift the focus to encouraging birth preparedness, recognizing and referring complications and providing appropriate emergency care through what USAID called “home-based life-saving skills.” By utilizing storytelling, case histories, discussion, role-play and demonstrations, midwives, expectant parents and community leaders were able to educate themselves at community meetings.
One of the greatest achievements of the previous midwife training in Liberia was its ability to connect traditional midwives to both health facilities and certified midwives. Certified midwives perform their own visits to discuss problems the traditional midwives are having, replenish supplies and reinforce the training.
The current programs are a part of WHO’s efforts to provide clear guidelines, tools and an evidence base to lead to strengthened midwifery in Liberia and around the world in order to improve care for pregnant women and reduce both maternal and neonatal mortality rates.
– Anastazia Vanisko
Photo: Public Domain Images