Project #1169

Teach Traditional Ethiopian Midwives to Save Lives

by VSI, Venture Strategies Innovations

Our work in Ethiopia has been centered on reaching women where they are. Reaching women in communities outside the city limits, hours and an uncomfortable car ride away from the nearest health center that houses the medicines and skilled professionals needed to save lives. These are the communities we serve.

Building upon the work of our parent organization Venture Strategies for Health and Development, collectively we have worked towards improving women’s health in Ethiopia by increasing access to misoprostol since 2007. We recognized then that life-saving misoprostol tablets presented a unique opportunity to impact the lives of women in a country where the overwhelming majority of mothers deliver at home - if only these tablets were put into the hands of those closest to women to help. And so we began our work to introduce misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of excessive bleeding after childbirth, or postpartum hemorrhage, the number one killer of mothers worldwide. After years of advocacy and demonstrating in the field that frontline health care providers could use misoprostol to save lives, in June 2010 we achieved government approval of misoprostol. This policy milestone allowed the medicine to be imported and distributed to prevent life-threatening bleeding, and was essentially the first step to reaching women throughout the country.

In the five years since the program began over half a million tablets were donated, 11,147 providers were trained, and 1,076 community members participated in peer group coffee ceremonies to discuss the importance of reproductive health services. Today, VSI continues our work in Ethiopia to ensure that all women have access to this simple medication that save lives. However as the year comes to a close, we too must close this project on Global Giving. Within our organization we need to pause, assess and engage our partners on-the-ground to adapt our program to meet the evolving needs of Ethiopia’s women. This time will allow us to plan programs strategically and ensure fundraising efforts match the need.

It’s likely you will see a new and improved Ethiopia project in 2013. In the meantime, we encourage you to stay connected to VSI's work through our website and the VSI Facebook and Twitter profiles. Thank you for your support and dedication to women in Ethiopia and around the world. It is because of advocates like you that our work is stronger and we can do more. On behalf of the women we serve “amesegenallo” and we hope that you will keep in touch!

Ethiopian HEW, pouring coffee
Ethiopian HEW, pouring coffee

The women sit in a circle facing one another smiling and laughing. They are all farmers from the same rural community in Kola Tembien, Ethiopia who have volunteered to be here. In the middle of the circle a young woman begins to slowly pour dark coffee into glasses, paying special care to avoid any grinds. These coffee ceremonies are a traditional part of Ethiopian culture and social life, but today’s ceremony has a special focus and a specific goal.

The young woman leading the ceremony is a Health Extension Worker (HEW), a government-deployed health care provider posted in this rural region of Ethiopia to assist the community with basic healthcare needs. VSI has enlisted the help of thousands of HEWs on the provision of life-saving misoprostol tablets. Today, this young HEW will use the coffee ceremony as a means to lead an important discussion with the women of her village. The ceremony is a conduit to create a safe space for women to share their experiences with reproductive health services and serve as peer advisors for one another. Hours later, after the third cup of coffee, the women have openly shared their concerns, challenges and success stories.

VSI-sponsored coffee ceremonies, much like this one, took place in four health posts across Kola Tembien, and many more are planned. In the last four ceremonies over 120 women participated, offering their perspectives and experiences with reproductive health. The encouraging news is that women are aware of the services offered and the importance of taking advantage of them. The disheartening fact is that these services are not universally available throughout the country or are simply too far to reach for many women in remote areas. Our mission is aimed at increasing access to essential medical services and supplies so that all women – no matter where they live – have the opportunity to empower and protect themselves. Your support to this project means that VSI can work to improve women’s health and reach more women with life-saving medicines and services.

On March 8th VSI celebrated International Women’s Day. We take this day each year to celebrate the women in our programs – the women we serve and the women that serve others. This year as a global community we recognized how far we have already come in improving the lives of women around the world, and yet there is still so much left to accomplish. 

VSI is undertaking a new scope of work in two rural districts of Tigray, Ethiopia. It is an awareness campaign focused on educating rural women on: 1) the importance of birth spacing and family planning, 2) warning signs of life-threatening incomplete abortion and miscarriage and 3) misoprostol for women’s health amongst a population where maternal death and disability are high. This campaign will engage important village-level health agents, such a traditional midwives and health extension workers, and use forums like traditional coffee ceremonies to talk to women about their reproductive health. The goal is to increase awareness of reproductive health services at the health post and the use of family planning after delivery.  Support to our Ethiopia program can further this project’s goals and impact the hardest to reach women with life-saving information.

When we save women’s lives, we strengthen entire communities, so walk this last mile with us. With your help we can celebrate and empower women everywhere. 

As the year comes to a close, Team VSI is busy wrapping up the year-end activities and reflecting on the progress and impact of our work in 2011. 

Our work in Ethiopia has been highlighted with stories of women and providers who have made a difference to our work. They are the example of how simple and innovative medical solutions can make an everlasting impact on families and entire communities. This year we met two health extension workers (HEWs), Robey and Aynalem, who are such examples. HEWs are one of the country’s greatest resources for essential medical care. Each HEW is assigned to a rural health post where she educates women about misoprostol and other important health practices. They often link with traditional midwives and travel from house to house providing miso tablets to women and delivering mothers. In 2011, VSI educated 435 HEWs on misoprostol, allowing more women to receive care wherever they are, and wherever they may deliver.

As we look ahead to 2012 we promise to stay focused on reaching women where they are. With your support, we will continue to bring health solutions like misoprostol tablets to more hard-to-reach communities to make pregnancy and childbirth safer. In 2012 we are also expanding our program to include counseling on postpartum family planning and life-saving postabortion care services. Your partnership in our efforts to improve the lives of women in places where the need is greatest means a lot to us. We hope you will consider renewing your valued contribution. Together we are stronger and can achieve more. 

For more information on VSI, read our recently published Biennial Report, covering programmatic activity and achievements during 2009-2010. The Report encapsulates the mission-driven work of our organization to improve women’s health by increasing access – access to health technologies and essential care.

Robey, Ethiopian HEW
Robey, Ethiopian HEW

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.



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Organization Information

VSI, Venture Strategies Innovations

Location: Irvine, California - USA
Website: http:/​/​
VSI, Venture Strategies Innovations
Project Leader:
Allison Boiles
Communications Specialist
Anaheim, CA United States

Funded Project!

Thanks to 123 donors like you, a total of $10,373 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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