maternal and child health
Just two years ago, in 2012, nearly 5 million children worldwide died before they reached their first birthday. Too many of those children were lost simply because they were born into nations without the necessary health infrastructure to attend to their basic medical needs. Lacking proper medical supplies, accessible health centers and proper prevention methods, developing nations are losing more mothers children than they must due to the fact that maternal and child health are intimately related.

One of these countries is Ethiopia, which in 2009 was rated one of the riskiest countries for childbirth, as one in 27 women died delivering their children. Though today that figure is still among the highest in the world – one in 67 women dies during childbirth in Ethiopia in 2014 – that the number has declined is representative of ongoing efforts both on the part of Ethiopia and on the part of international aid organizations to improve maternal and child health.

In a nation where 80 percent of mothers give birth at home without the help of a trained midwife or other health care worker, preventable death occurs frequently. Recognizing this situation, public health outreach in Ethiopia aimed at mothers and children has focused on giving them access to health centers that may be far away from rural areas where much of the population lives. Though there is still much to be done, this outreach has so far been incredibly successful, with Ethiopia accomplishing Millennium Development Goal #4, to reduce child death before age 5 by two-thirds by 2015, well ahead of schedule.

That achievement is sure to be followed by even more improvement in maternal and child health in Ethiopia, as the Ethiopian government has committed to training and stationing Health Extension Workers at critical places throughout rural Ethiopia as part of its Health Extension Plan. If this policy is successful, every Ethiopian will have access to a regional health center staffed by two knowledgeable Health Extension Workers, a larger nearby health center and a full-fledged hospital.

The government has realized not only the importance of accessible health care for its people, but also culturally-appropriate health care practices. Because Ethiopia is a large and diverse nation, attending to the many cultural preferences of its people is key to delivering the highest quality of care. ONE reported a case in which Ethiopian women were choosing to deliver at home rather than at a local health center because the birthing position at the health center made the women feel uneasy. After rectifying the birthing position, more women felt comfortable coming to the health center for pre- and post-natal care. Installing health centers is an admirable first step, but it will also be crucial to train health care workers to respect the culture of the local community.

Ethiopia is by no means a wealthy country – it is ranked among the poorest in the world – but despite widespread impoverishment, it has committed to taking care of its mothers and children and in the past several years has begun making strides toward that goal. Targeted international aid will only speed up the process of keeping every mother and child alive in Ethiopia.

Elise L. Riley

Sources: ONE, Strong Women Strong World, WHO
Photo: IXMHD