In rural Ethiopia, pregnant women seeking assistance with delivery often have to travel long distances over rough terrain through areas of active conflict to access care. When they arrive at their destination, there is nowhere for them to stay. Healthcare clinics are in remote areas and beds are typically reserved for patients actively delivering babies or experiencing complications. Our early needs assessments revealed that pregnant women, if they are able to make the journey to a healthcare facility, are often forced to sleep outside under trees, in the rain with no food or water, as they go into labor and wait for delivery.
Safe places to await delivery
Maternity waiting areas aim to bridge this gap in obstetric care and encourage more women to come to health facilities to deliver more safely than at home.
[Maternity waiting areas] are residential facilities near a qualified medical facility, where women coming from hard to reach areas can await their delivery and be transferred to a nearby medical facility shortly before delivery or earlier should complications arise.World Health Organization, 2020
Working with our partners in Ethiopia, we have been constructing maternity waiting areas and compounds for women next to healthcare facilities in rural southwestern Ethiopia. We build government-standard buildings with stone, cinder block, and tin, which makes the structures more sustainable. We also construct a nearby stick and mud kitchen, dedicated cinder block latrine and shower, cement laundry stand, and water tap with 10,000 gallons of water storage.
Pregnant women come to these waiting areas when they are near or at term, allowing them to be close to a healthcare facility where they can access skilled assistance with delivery. This medical care saves lives.
So far, we have built eight of these facilities in southwestern Ethiopia.
In the future, we hope to add demonstration gardens and education on income-generating skills. Demonstration gardens would include plants such as avocado trees, kale, and beets, which women could learn to plant and harvest at their own homes. Income-generating skills would include lessons in financial literacy and classes on such things as how to make soap and sanitary pads.
For now, we are focused on creating these important structures for women to use as they approach delivery. These maternity waiting areas represent one aspect of the complete system of maternal care we aim to implement in the rural areas of southwestern Ethiopia, along with WASH in healthcare facilities and education and training programs to improve the skills of nurse midwives performing childbirth services.
World Health Organzation, 2020. WHO is strengthening maternity waiting homes to reduce maternal mortality. https://www.who.int/about/accountability/results/who-results-report-2020-mtr/country-story/2020/who-is-strengthening-maternity-waiting-homes-to-reduce-maternal-mortality