Since June 2011, International Medical Corps, with support from the United Nations Population Fund, has worked to improve maternal health care in four food insecure areas of Ethiopia, namely Humbo, Kindo Didaye, Kindo Koysha and Damote Pulasa. Our program aims to reduce maternal and child mortality and morbidity in the region by strengthening Ethiopia’s health care system at the primary care level, improving maternal and newborn services, and supporting data collection and analysis.
Factors that contribute to high maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity include low awareness of family planning, poor nutrition, shortages of trained health personnel and limited access to well-equipped health facilities and obstetric care. The majority of maternal deaths occur in the early postpartum period, more than half of which take place within a day of delivery. A health system that provides accessible and quality health care, adequate medical supplies, skilled personnel, and effective referral and transport is critical for managing obstetric emergencies, which can arise suddenly and without warning. International Medical Corps’ Reproductive Health Strategy therefore promotes access to sexual and reproductive health services and information, which includes increasing the percentage of deliveries conducted by skilled birth attendants.
International Medical Corps also prioritizes nutrition for pregnant and lactating women, as poor nutritional status can cause a greater risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Anemia is one of the most common causes of indirect maternal mortality and morbidity in Ethiopia; a 2011 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey found that 17% of mothers of reproductive age are anemic. To combat maternal mortality, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health provides FEFOL (iron and folic acid combined tablets) to health posts for distribution to pregnant and lactating women. When shortages in the supply of FEFOL to health posts in vulnerable areas occur, International Medical Corps provides FEFOL to avoid any interruptions in availability. In addition, International Medical Corps conducts training on the importance of iron supplements for preventing anemia to ensure that all health centers provide FEFOL to pregnant and lactating women.
Asnakech, a mother of two living in Koysha Ogodama Kebele who is expecting her third child, has benefited from International Medical Corps’ interventions in her community. Asnakech delivered her first two children at home; she did not access antenatal care (ANC) services or take FEFOL supplements. After receiving community health education from International Medical Corps-trained health workers, Asnakech decided to visit Koysha Ogodama Health Post, an International Medical Corps-supported health facility, for full ANC services. Asnakech has now started taking FEFOL supplements in her sixth month of pregnancy, and plans to deliver her third child with full ANC services at Koysha Ogodama Health Post.