Saturday was an exciting day for the midwifery graduates at the School of Midwifery in Makeni, Sierra Leone, and marked an important milestone in the West African nation’s progress toward improving maternal and child health services.
The World Needs Midwives
I attended the ceremony to present the Direct Relief Midwife Kits to the new graduates. It was a great celebration—and at five-plus hours it was the longest graduation ceremony I’ve ever attended!
Direct Relief was recognized and thanked by the Minister of Health, Head of School, and all dignitaries at the event—as well as by the graduates themselves—for imparting this very valuable contribution that will help provide the right tools for the new midwives to save lives in their communities.
Carrying a large banner declaring “The World Needs Midwives Now More Than Ever” the processional of graduates and students proudly filed into the graduation ceremony, singing with great enthusiasm the song that had come to symbolize the heart of their commitment: “No, no, no, pregnant woman should die when she is giving birth…we are going to stop that in Sierra Leone.”
Meeting the Challenge in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, the most recent data (2008) indicating 847 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The majority of these deaths are preventable, and having a trained and equipped midwife present during delivery is one of the most critical interventions to save lives.
This fact was not lost on the graduates and dignitaries at the ceremony—the midwives committed themselves to doing whatever was in their power to always provide quality and compassionate care, and to bringing Sierra Leone up from its undesirable position at the bottom of the index for maternal and infant mortality.
The School of Midwifery in Makeni is only the second school of Midwifery in Sierra Leone, and the first outside the capital of Freetown, which makes it more accessible to students from the rural areas. The school has now trained 135 midwives—with the first set of graduates joining the health workforce last year—and has a primary emphasis on placing midwives at the Community Health Centers that are serving women and children in the more rural areas, far from the town and hospitals.
The Minister of Health and Sanitation, Hon. Miatta Kargbo, provided the keynote address during the ceremony and she commended the school for raising the bar in the professionalism of nursing and midwifery and encouraged the graduates to meet the challenges of reducing maternal and infant mortality.
The Right Tools to Save Lives
Direct Relief is working to improve maternal and child health in Sierra Leone by ensuring that midwives are equipped with the right tools to enable them to provide life-saving antenatal, delivery, and post-partum care. All graduates from the School of Midwifery in Makeni are equipped with a Direct Relief Midwife Kit that contains essential equipment and supplies that can be used at the community health center where they are posted following their training.
The midwives train for two years to prepare themselves with knowledge and skills they need to provide quality health services; but for a midwife to be successful it is also critical that they are equipped with the right tools. Marie Sheriff ,who was recognized during the ceremony as “Best Overall Graduating Student,” said of the importance
of having the Direct Relief Midwife Kit: “You don’t send a farmer to the field without a hoe. And you can’t send a midwife to the community without the tools she needs.”
Sierra Leone is one of the few West African nations to allow men to train as midwives as they recognize the importance in involving men—often the key decision makers in the family—in the overall strategy to improve maternal and child health. So far, there have been only a few male graduates from the School of Midwifery Makeni, but in a symbolic gesture the Head of School nominated a male midwife to accept the Direct Relief Midwife Kit on behalf of the Class of 2013 during the ceremony.
For nearly five years, Direct Relief has worked with Medical Research Centre (MRC), a local nongovernmental organization that was instrumental in establishing the School of Midwifery Makeni in 2010. Direct Relief provides medicines, medical supplies, and equipment which MRC distributes to over 35 government health centers and hospitals that experience chronically limited resources and regular stock out of basic medicines and supplies.
In 2011, Direct Relief and MRC committed to working together to ensure that all graduates from the School of Midwifery Makeni could begin their placements with the essential supplies and equipment that they needed and also to re-supply the materials as they are consumed. To date, Direct Relief has supplied 135 Midwife Kits that are placed throughout the country and plans to support the 130 midwife students in training that will graduate in 2014 and 2015.
The Minister encouraged the graduates as she wrapped up her speech: “The world needs midwives now more than ever. So go out there and serve your communities with dignity, respect, and professionalism…the school has adequately prepared you for the challenges ahead. I hope you will make a positive difference as you go out in the world to render services to humanity; go out and serve the citizens of this great nation.”