Maternal and perinatal death rates remain a major challenge for healthcare in Namibia, a local health official has said.
However, according to Esperanca van der Merwe, this can be prevented. Van der Merwe is responsible for the Safe Motherhood, Newborn Care and Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme at the health ministry.
“Quality and effective care reduces complications from pregnancy, labour and delivery, reduces stillbirths and perinatal deaths, and offers an opportunity for integrated care. The ministry has developed guidelines to facilitate the response within health facilities to reduce maternal, stillbirth and neonatal mortality in the country,” she said during a workshop, titled Respectful Maternity Care (RMC), held in the capital recently.
Van der Merwe said highly medicalised and impersonal care is not just disrespectful but increasingly unsafe for women and their infants.
She added that recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018 emphasised the quality of interaction between women and their health care providers and considered good interactions as a prerequisite for positive outcomes of childbirth.
Van der Merwe stated RMC can lead to successful breastfeeding, which will be a win for mother and baby respectful care, described as one element of quality, woman-centred maternal health care.
“Mistreatment of women during labour and childbirth is against women’s basic human rights, choices and preferences – and it is a type of poor quality care,” she opined.
A midwife by profession, Tekla Mbidi organised the workshop with the assistance from Johnson and Johnson company through the International Confederation of Midwives.
It was attended by 28 midwives, comprising of senior midwives, educators from institutions of high learning and student midwives.
Mbidi said published evidence about violations of women’s human rights during childbirth, which extends to physical and verbal abuse, shaming women, breaching their privacy and abandoning them in labour exists.
“This evidence has documented that the quality of care is related to the quality of maternal and newborn health outcomes, including mortality. We have a professional problem; it is a global concern and Namibia is no exception,” shared Mbidi.
She was accepted in the Young Midwifery Leadership Programme alongside nine other young midwives from Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan and Canada.
Established in 2019, the Young Midwifery Leadership programme is about advocating for respectful maternity care knowledge and practices among Namibian midwives to have an enabling midwifery practice environment in which midwives and expectant mothers are treated in a dignified manner and where the rights of women and their babies are defended.
“We (midwives) need to commit to the daily deeds of kindness, radiate compassion, starting with self-compassion, to bring out the best in others and ourselves, to sustain love, even in our most challenging relationships and to celebrate and exercise the power of our mental freedom,” added Mbidi.
She stated that this is the time to focus on the art of midwifery rather than the hard clinical science – the part about caring, healing and partnering with women through the peak life moments of birth.
“This is the part that resonates with every human being – no matter where they are from, what religion they belong to or the social context in which they work. When we peel back the layers of those things, we find all human beings are pre-wired for love and caring,” she explained.
A participant told New Era that after the workshop, she was able to reflect on how midwives just own the space and prevent women to have a voice in their care, which is a violation of their rights.
“I think this is the time that we go back and change this type of practice and allow women to be informed and make autonomous decisions,” she noted.