Celebrating the Young Champions of Maternal Health

Posted on

By: Natalie Ramm, Communications Coordinator, Maternal Health Task Force, Women and Health Initiative

Young Champions Cohort 2 (2013)

Over the course of the last nine months, the Young Champions have each designed projects focused on a specific maternal health challenge. While conducting work in Nigeria, Ethiopia, India and Mexico, the Young Champions have dealt first-hand with the challenges of implementing their projects in their home countries. They have been documenting their progress on the Young Champions blog.

Each year, millions of women worldwide give birth without the help of a trained health worker. In Bulakori, Nigeria, Young Champion Ashiru Adamu helped a woman give birth to a healthy baby boy. He was shocked to find out that he was the first medical doctor to set foot in the village and the health facility.

“We’re working to change these alarming maternal mortality statistics in Nigeria by providing clean birth kits,”Chinomnso Traffina Ibe writes. She entered the Young Champions program with the hope of achieving better health for women during pregnancy and childbirth. Ibe is doing just that with the birth kits, which will provide “a safer birth environment and better health outcomes for mothers and babies.”

Another of the Young Champions, Solomon Abebe Addis, encountered an inspiring doctor in Ethiopia. For 54 years, she and her husband, before he died, helped repair fistulas. Addis wrote that they “travel[ed] to remote places, performing the surgery and teaching other doctors to perform it. So far, they have performed the surgery on more than 33,000 women, most of whom return to their families and rebuild their lives.” Addis was inspired not only by their medical work but by their respectful care of the patients.

Also in Ethiopia, Anteneh Asefa Mekonnen found that most women preferred not to deliver in a healthcare facility. They cited lack of respect from providers as one of the reasons not to have an institutional birth.

Luz Maria Soto Pizano, in Mexico, witnessed healthcare providers giving medical treatment to a woman without asking her permission or telling her what they were doing. After receiving multiple vaginal exams and a C-section, this woman felt violated and scared. Pizano hopes to achieve better provider/patient interactions by developing specific protocol that will make the patient more respected, and, as a result, more women will choose to give birth in facilities.

In a different approach to maternal health, Oluwadamilola Olufunbi Olaogun states in her blog that supplying family planning methods can actually reduce a woman’s risk of dying in pregnancy. Olaogun focused specifically on increasing contraceptive use by married women. She entered the Young Champions program to identify ways of reducing socio-cultural barriers that can limit access to maternal health services like family planning.

Young Champion Priya John discovered how politically charged the family planning method of sterilization is in India. She says in her blog that more women than men undergo sterilization, even though the procedure is less invasive for men. John pointed out that the basic inequalities between women and men are the root of multiple maternal health issues, including sterilization. She found that, in the case of a Paharia woman, the inequalities between men and women were compounded by race discrimination. Priya states that a Paharia woman was denied access to sterilization “in the name of a larger good. It appears whatever the problem may be – women and their bodies provide ready panaceas!”

Many of our Young Champions faced issues that they could not have foreseen. In spite of the glitches, they have been enthusiastic and thoughtful throughout their placement in the program.

As they near the end of their fellowship programs, we’d like to congratulate them on their work and hope that they will continue to be leaders in maternal health around the globe.