This summer, VSI had the opportunity to travel with National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered host Melissa Block and producer Andrea Hsu to Northern Mozambique to introduce them to VSI program beneficiaries and community-level providers working to save women's lives with misoprostol tablets. The site visit was featured in the program’s summer series, “Beginnings,” covering experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting from around the world.
The VSI-Mozambique team accompanied NPR to Nacala Porto in Nampula Province to meet with trusted traditional birth attendants like Mama Maria, who VSI trained on prevention of postpartum hemorrhage and equipped with life-saving misoprostol tablets for the first time. The broadcast, which features these birth attendants, raised awareness in the United States of the potential of misoprostol to be used at the community level by traditional birth attendants to protect rural mothers who otherwise have no protection from this leading cause of maternal death globally.
When interviewed by Melissa Block, Dr. Cassimo Bique, Senior Technical Advisor for VSI-Mozambique, laid it out quite simply:
"I can say in one word, simple word, misoprostol is something — a miraculous drug."
In a country where 94% of mothers deliver at home, the vast majority without a skilled health provider, trained health extension workers (HEWs) are a desperately needed resource to prevent maternal deaths. Robey is one of the many HEWs trained by VSI to fill that gap in coverage.
VSI’s Ethiopia program capitalizes on the unique role of these health workers to provide life-saving maternal health services to women living in rural or isolated communities. During a recent meeting reflecting on the work of HEWs, Robey spoke with our team about her work: “It brings me joy to treat at-risk mothers and cure them.” Robey and her fellow health workers live alongside the women they care for. They know the suffering firsthand, and they know what their work means to the women of Ethiopia.
With your support, VSI continues to work with the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health to further formalize the role of women like Robey in the delivery of important maternal health solutions. VSI and its local partners are in the final stages of revising national guidelines for integration of misoprostol tablets at the community level for management of postpartum hemorrhage. This means all HEWs will be trained on the life-saving medicine misoprostol and more women at the margins will have the chance to survive pregnancy and childbirth.
While visiting our program sites in Kenya, the VSI team recently had the opportunity to meet many mothers and health care providers reached in our safe motherhood program. Of all of the moving stories we heard, Jacinta’s struck a chord, as her experience speaks to the true importance of our work to ensure women have misoprostol tablets wherever they deliver.
Jacinta held baby Joseph and smiled softly into the camera as we asked her about her experience with misoprostol – the medicine that saved her life. Without misoprostol, she could have died. The majority of women in her community deliver their babies at home, often without assistance, but Jacinta was determined to make it to the clinic. After feeling the first labor pains, she summoned the community health worker in her village and together they set out to the nearest clinic, miles away from her home. Joseph was in more of a hurry, and her labor progressed while she was still en route. Jacinta had received misoprostol and instruction on how to use them at prenatal counseling, and so there on the roadside, immediately after delivery, she took her three tablets. With the help of misoprostol she did not suffer from excessive bleeding and was able to gather the strength to get back on the road to seek out postnatal care for her baby boy. She shared, “I have seen the goodness of miso.”
Rural women like Jacinta know the dangers of childbirth more keenly than anyone. In Kenya, 1 in 38 women will die from maternal causes, and only 44% of births are attended by a skilled health care provider. This means more women are dying because they give birth alone, without support or medicines. Your contribution allows VSI to provide needed support to rural women and to save the lives of mothers like Jacinta in Kenyan communities.
To meet another inspirational Kenyan mother, watch Irene’s story: