Achieving Respectful Healthcare Through Education and Awareness in Ethiopia

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By: Kate Leisner, Communications Specialist, WAHA International

Dignified healthcare hinges upon community involvement at every level. That is why Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) International is working to make sure that the rural communities of Ethiopia are playing an active role in ensuring respectful maternity care. From local villages to national hospitals, communities can improve healthcare if they are informed, trained, and empowered.

WAHA International is strongly convinced that the first step to respectful maternity care lies in a community awareness campaign centered on local level involvement in maternal health issues. In a project supported by the World Bank, WAHA will train 40 former fistula patients to become Maternal Health Advocates (MHA) in over 45 communities in Northern Ethiopia. MHAs will encourage maternal health awareness and responsibility in their own villages and provide dignified and sympathetic healthcare advice. Having experienced the physical, emotional, and economic consequences of obstetric fistula, they will have a profound impact on health awareness by sharing their stories.

Through a series of workshops, WAHA medical personnel will train women to become health advocates. MHAs will then hold advocacy activities in their respective villages to dispel misconceptions about health issues and spread information about proper health practices, instilling in the community the idea that maternity should be given adequate attention and respect. During these sessions, MHAs will be paired with community Health Extension Workers, certified health post representatives who act as a liaison between health facilities and rural communities. Thanks to this collaboration, women will be able to locate health assistance easily and unabashedly.

After shedding social stigma and developing a well-informed referral system rooted in local villages, the next step consists of making sure hospitals can meet the expectations of these women. In this regard, WAHA has stepped up renovations at Debark Hospital and at Woken and Dabat health centers to improve the quality of fistula and maternity departments. Sanitation works and equipment supply will make sure women are met with cleanliness and comfort.

Most importantly, WAHA is training local health workers throughout Ethiopia to provide the best maternal medical support. At the teaching hospitals of Gondar, Jimma, and Adama, expert surgeons, including Dr. Mulu Muleta and Dr. Ambaye Wolde Michael, regularly hold advanced surgery training and refresher courses for up and coming Ethiopian healthcare professionals. WAHA focuses on integrating fistula care services into the curricula of university teaching hospitals, as this ensures high quality care and clinical follow-up for patients. A competency-based training manual developed by experts on fistula management in collaboration with FIGO is used to train health students. These expert-led training sessions at hospitals and health centers help ensure that Ethiopian health workers are able to provide the women of their community with respectful care.

With empowered women, educated health extension workers, and trained medical personnel, Ethiopian communities will see a proliferation not only in the awareness of dignified maternal healthcare, but in dignified maternal healthcare itself.

To read more posts in the respectful maternity care guest blog series, click here.