News / Africa

Ethiopian Women Seek Improved Access to Pre-Natal Care

In Ethiopia, pregnant women and young children face a serious problem: most of them live in rural areas, far from health care facilities. Usually they must travel for hours on foot to the nearest clinic, only to receive marginal quality treatment. For many pregnant women, even that is a luxury.

A model maternity clinic

Mondays are busy at the Fufa village maternity clinic in south western Ethiopia. Mothers from near and far come to this clinic, the first of its kind within a 100 kilometer radius.

Women and children travel on foot seeking medical treatment in Ethiopia
Women and children travel on foot seeking medical treatment in Ethiopia

The hospital has a delivery room, basic equipment and trained professionals - luxuries compared to what was available in the past.

Gebremariam Ayele, a clinical nurse who has been working in the Fufa area for decades, says prenatal care was a much different experience before the Fufa clinic was built.

"We were limited in what we could do. [Before the clinic was built], we sent two health care workers to the villages on foot. They provided vaccinations and antenatal care to mothers," Gebremariam says.

Challenges to rural healthcare

Most pregnant women do not get to proper clinics like the one at Fufa, says Gebremariam.  Many are forced to travel long distances on foot to seek medical treatment, or to forgo it altogether.

Delivery room at Fufa clinic
Delivery room at Fufa clinic

The effects are devastating. The UN reports that Ethiopia's infant mortality rate is 86 out of every thousand, compared to about 6 out of every 100,000 in the United States.

Lack of care can also be fatal for mothers who go through difficult pregnancies or labor. Those who survive have to deal with the emotional scars and physical complications. One of these complications is fistula, a childbirth injury where fluid leaks through a hole between the bladder and cervix or rectum.  It can be caused by prolonged labor.

Mark Bennet is the CEO of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, where women who suffer from birth injuries get free treatment. He says fistula often happens in rural areas because women don't have access to healthcare during delivery.

"They live a long distance from a place where healthcare can be provided, so getting transport, getting to a health center in time and getting to a health center that actually has the facilities or the professional staff that can give some assistance takes a long time," Bennet says.

According to Bennet, it will not be easy to improve access for women in rural areas.

"Ethiopia has a big challenge. Building roads to connect rural communities to locations where health care can be provided, that is a big challenge," he says. "Providing education to rural communities is a big challenge. And providing health care professionals to a rural community that is so large is an enormous challenge. Educated people do not want to work in the countryside."

Physician shortage

Ethiopian midwife Mekdes Kassahun
Ethiopian midwife Mekdes Kassahun

Often, educated doctors choose to leave Ethiopia altogether for better-paying jobs overseas. The government is training health extension workers to meet the growing demand in the country, which has Africa's second largest population.

Health extension workers are low-level professionals with some months of training.  Midwife Mekdes Kassahun says these workers can still make a big difference.

"Health extension workers and mobile clinic workers teach mothers about basic nutritional needs during pregnancy," she says.

According to Mekdes, the biggest challenge is raising awareness in rural communities, and health extension workers are helping bridge that gap.

"They grow cabbage and carrots for sale at local markets to buy grain. We advise them to eat vegetables during pregnancy. We also consult them about possible birth complications, vaccinations and PMCT [Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV."

Clinics like the Fufa hospital also focus on PMCT as a big component of prenatal care.

At another maternity clinic, in the town of Durame in southern Ethiopia, farmers Amenech Haylemariam and her husband Desta Tsienew came to visit a patient. Amenech said she is likely to be four or five months pregnant, and intends to go regularly to the clinic.

The government says health extension workers will help out in efforts to expand healthcare access for millions of Ethiopia's rural women, but there is no quick fix in sight.  Poor infrastructure and a high population growth remain formidable challenges.

This is part 3 of our 15 part series, A Healthy Start: On the Frontlines of Maternal and Infant Care in Africa

« Prev: Early Marriage Series Index Next: Pregnancy Spacing »

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs