Demonizing Traditional Birth AttendantsJanuary 17, 2012 No Comments
Traditional birth attendants provide the majority of care to women in Sierra Leone. But despite the fact that the country has less than 80 professional midwives and only six obstetricians the government in Sierra Leone has banned them from practising their craft.
The argument goes that because traditional birth attendants do not have knowledge of modern midwifery practices they could be endangering the lives of women and babies.
There’s no doubt that the women who have given over their lives to the vocation of being a traditional birth attendant could benefit from getting some training so that they are better able to help the women they care for.
But can it really be more dangerous to let these attendants look after women in labour than it is to leave pregnant and labouring women with no care whatsoever? Because that is the real effect of this ban.
Many women in rural areas don’t have access to the free hospital care the government is providing to replace the birth attendants because they don’t have a clinic or hospital nearby. Many women have no option but to give birth in their home village. As a result, pregnant women will continue to call upon these traditional birth attendants for support during labour and – because it is a vocation – the birth attendants will continue to help them.
The government is trying to counter this by fining women who practice as traditional birth attendants and attend births despite the ban.
But the government in Sierra Leone are missing a trick. There is an army of trusted local women throughout the country who have attended thousands of births between them. Yes, they do not have the knowledge to deal with serious complications. And no, perhaps they are not all literate and cannot keep detailed records of events. But complications will happen whether they are there or not. And no records will be kept if labouring women cannot get to hospital, which in rural areas they simply cannot.
Instead of demonizing traditional birth attendants the government would be better off making use of them. Put some money into educating them and improving their knowledge – the traditional birth attendants have the best interests of the women they serve at heart and, with a little help, it is possible for them to make a real difference.
Contact the author here: email@example.com