Caring for women and babies before, during and after birth
How UNICEF is working to make pregnancy, labour and birth safer for mothers and newborns in Afar, Ethiopia
The birth of a child brings great happiness for families. Yet over 100,000 newborns needlessly die each year due to prematurity, disease and other neonatal complications in Ethiopia. Newborn survival is even lower in places like Afar where along with a lack of quality health services, families are suffering from the consequences of drought and recent conflict. With partners like the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), UNICEF is working to make sure mothers and newborns get the best chance in life.
A community approach to pregnancy
After attending a community learning session, a heavily pregnant Kediga Eskah walked back to her village. That day, she’d listened to the story of Hasna, a fictional character who had lost her life during delivery due to delayed labour and blood loss. Together with a facilitator and a group of women, they’d discussed how Hasna’s death could have been prevented.
Kediga is expecting her second baby soon and values the UNICEF-supported community sessions.
"I was lucky. I managed to get to the hospital on time."
“This tragedy is not new here,” she says sadly. “Women in Afar have gone through many challenges during pregnancy and childbirth. Those who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) suffer a lot. When I had my first child, I faced the same problem. But I was lucky. I managed to get to the hospital on time. I can’t even imagine how it feels for a mother to lose a child after nine months of effort.”
Later, Kediga gets a blood pressure reading and an ultrasound scan to check in on the health of her baby. She’s benefiting from a UNICEF-supported mobile health service which travels to people living in rural areas. “The antenatal follow-ups we do here are critical for pregnant women who live far from health facilities,” says midwife Rabia Ali. “That’s why we come here. Many pregnant women need iron supplements and treatment for infections. We provide advice on how to reduce risk during delivery,” she says.
Supporting neonatal intensive care units
In addition to strengthening support for pregnant women, newborn care is critical - particularly in Afar which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.
"We are doing our best to save more babies. The training is very important to our staff."
That’s why UNICEF is building the capacity of local hospitals like Dubti by providing essential supplies and equipment, and supporting training for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) staff. “As the only referral hospital in the region, Dubti has a huge caseload. We are doing our best to save more babies,” says Dr. Abubakar Mahmud, medical director of Dubti Hospital. “The training is very important to our staff.”
Continued care for newborns and new mothers
After childbirth, the first month of life is a particularly vulnerable period for children – including little Mohammad. For Fatuma Mohammed, 29, having a boy after trying for years was a life-affirming moment. But soon after birth, Mohammed was struggling with a fever and cough, a typical sign of pneumonia. Thankfully, a trained community volunteer called Momina identified Mohammed’s condition during a regular house visit and immediately referred him to a nearby health centre.
At Decheto Health Center Mohammed receives medication to treat his pneumonia, and a report is compiled so Momina can follow up at home.
Mohammed is feeling much better, and his smile is back. From pregnancy to childbirth and beyond, UNICEF and partners are working to protect every woman and baby with quality healthcare in clinics and at home.
* The optimizing care for newborns and children programme is implemented in collaboration with the Afar Regional Health Bureau and Emory University.