Eritrea reducing maternal death, on track to achieve the MDGs

20 Sep 2010

In the market town of Senafe, in southern Eritrea, Fethawi Berhane has just undergone three days of painful labor and complications during child birth that resulted in the death of her baby.  Despite the best efforts of a traditional birth attendant her child could not be saved.  Luckily Fethawi survived amid the inhygenenic and poorly equipped medical conditions in which she had to give birth.

Fethawi’s case is not a unique one in Eritrea, which once had the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with about 1400 deaths per 100,000 births.  The main contributor to this was the high incidence of obstructed labor.

The rural nature of Eritrea, with poor communication and transportation infrastructure in the outlying areas, resulted in 80 percent of deliveries occurring without a physician or trained midwife.

Today, however, Eritrea is one of the four African countries said to be on course to achieve Millennium Development Goals five on Maternal Health – reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio and reaching below 350 deaths per 100,000 births by 2015 since 2005.

This drastic positive change has come about through the concerted programmes and persistent efforts of the Government of the State of Eritrea and partnership and collaboration of UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and UNDP . Focusing on the coordinated programmes on maternal health, campaigns have been intensified; information and training on community awareness of maternal issues have been provided; delivery plans and preparedness for skilled attendants in health were conducted in local languages and in remote parts of the country and traditional birth attendants have been trained to improve their skills.

Today, each community has trained maternal care givers.  Expectant mothers living far from medical centers do not have to risk their lives and travel long distances while in labor.  Trained birth attendants visit them in their home before and after delivery, to ensure that both mother and baby are in good health, as well as to provide medical advice.

Additional funding of US$ 88 million would be required in the next four years to ensure universal coverage of maternal and neonatal health intervention in Eritrea- giving hope to women like Fethawi Berhane that child b birth no longer be a matter of life and death.