HEALTH Deputy Minister, Liteboho Kompi, has called on midwives to stop discriminating against expectant mothers because of their cultural beliefs, saying it would dissuade them from giving birth at health centres.
Ms Kompi made the remark on Friday during International Day of the Midwife commemorations held in Maseru. The day has been commemorated globally on 5 May since 1991 to celebrate the life-saving work of midwives.
Midwives are the primary care givers for millions of women and new-borns before, during and after childbirth, and also offer women and girls essential counselling and education on family planning and reproductive health.
The celebrations were held under the theme “Women and New-borns: The Heart of Midwifery” with 10 health centres recording the highest deliveries in their districts also receiving trophies. The winning health centres were Thabana-Morena (Mafeteng), Nkau (Mohale’s Hoek), Villa Maria (Quthing), Lebakeng (Qacha’s Nek), Tlhanyaku (Mokhotlong), Bobete (Thaba-Tseka), Seventh Day Adventist (Leribe), Pilot (Berea), St Leonard (Maseru) and St Peters (Butha-Buthe).
The district with the highest deliveries was Butha-Buthe.
Ms Kompi said cultural practices were still deeply rooted among Basotho, adding that some midwives were chasing away expectant mothers who practised them.
“If we understand what they (expectant mothers) are doing and try to make them understand our responsibilities, we will be able to work together,” the deputy minister said.
“For instance, some women are not treated well in some health centres simply because they wear a selapa (a pink traditional cloth). These women are criticised and accused of drinking herbs simply because they are wearing a selapa.”
She said Lesotho would reach its goals of decreasing maternal and child mortalities if midwives understood the Basotho culture and welcoming everyone with open arms regardless of their beliefs.
“You should always remember that we are Basotho, and we love our culture. All we need to do is respect the expectant mothers but also work very hard to ensure these women understand that we also have our responsibilities as well; which is to save lives.”
Ms Kompi also lauded the midwives across the country for working hard despite many resource constraints.
“If it wasn’t for the midwives, there wouldn’t be any other person in this world because they save lives,” Ms Kompi said, adding that most of the health centres such as Tlhanyaku and Nkau were in hard-to-reach areas but the midwives still worked hard to save lives.
A representative of St Leonard Health Centre, Constance Leuta, said the management of the hospital came up with various strategies to attract expecting mothers in 2014 after realising their numbers were decreasing.
“Management held a meeting with all staff members who include lay councillors, chiefs and village health workers,” Ms Leuta said.
“We all agreed that the number of women giving birth at the hospital was decreasing at an alarming rate and decided to do something about it.”
She said it was all the more disconcerting that fewer expectant mothers were coming to receive healthcare services that were offered freely.
Following the meeting, they solicited the views of women from the surrounding villages and then came up with an action plan to encourage more women to give birth at the hospital.
“We then agreed that, as professional health workers, we needed to motivate the women and community members to seek our services as well as ensuring that giving birth at the hospital is a priority,” said Ms Leuta.
The hospital staff set for themselves a target of 150 births at the centre in 2015; a target which they exceeded by 45.
To reach the target, she said, they introduced annual awards ceremonies to motivate villagers and healthcare workers.
“Starting from the end of 2015, we awarded villages with the highest number of women who gave birth at the centre and held a ceremony to mark the achievement,” Ms Leuta said.
“After our awards, the respective villages also held their own celebratory events and we strongly believe that this is working for us. We are also going to introduce a village health workers’ awards category at the end of this year.
“The village health workers with the highest referrals will be given accolades to ensure every individual makes it their business to encourage pregnant women to deliver at a health centre.”
She added: “We also run a self-catering facility for waiting mothers at the centre and working closely with St Joseph’s Hospital in situations where we need referrals, and this is helping us a lot.”
Speaking at the same ceremony, United Nations Populations Fund Representative (UNFPA) to Lesotho Therese Zeba said midwifery was a significant component in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among the objectives of the SDGs are ending poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.
“On this international day, UNFPA salutes the contribution of midwives to saving the lives of women, adolescent girls and new-borns,” she said. “Sometimes, this is done under very difficult circumstances; in hard to reach communities; in humanitarian emergencies and fragile as well as conflict countries.”
She said midwifes were important for new-borns during the critical first month of life, adding that they made a significant contribution to sexual and reproductive health in general.
“In the past 25 years, the world has almost halved maternal deaths, but every year, some 300 000 women still die during pregnancy and child birth and almost three million babies don’t survive their first four weeks of life,” Ms Zeba said.
She said the vast majority of these largely preventable deaths take place in developing and crisis-affected countries and that if trained midwives were deployed in larger numbers, they could avert approximately two thirds of the fatalities.
Ms Zeba said UNFPA was helping train and support thousands of midwives in more than 100 countries, adding that midwifery was a calling and not a business.
“Midwifery is not a business nor a job but a calling. Midwives are also not in the profession because there was nothing else they could do,” she said.