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Spotlight Shines On Women Of Rural Ethiopia

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For this IWD, WorldDenver recognizes Dr. Margaret “Migs” Muldrow, through Village Health Partnership, as an individual honoree for her deep commitment to advancing maternal health in Ethiopia. As the Founder and President of Village Health Partnership, Migs has worked actively with community leaders both domestic and abroad to shine a light on maternal healthcare in rural western and southwestern Ethiopia.

Thank you for your support!

Read her acceptance speech here:

I’m going to tell you a story.  Some parts of the story are shocking and horrible, but I’m going to tell you the story—not to sensationalize things, but to give you an understanding of what women face in rural Ethiopia.

I grew up in southwestern Ethiopia.  My parents were missionaries.  My father worked as an engineer.  We ran a small medical clinic.  My father often worked in the clinic, learning all he could out of fear that the one medical provider we had would leave because we lived in such a remote area.  As a child I often helped him in the clinic.  One day a woman came in.  She was in terrible, terrible pain.  She had been in labor for multiple days.  Her baby was stuck high up in her pelvis.  My father put her on the exam table.  The baby was clearly dead.  My father reached inside, crushed its head and pulled the baby through the birth canal.  The woman thanked him for relieving her pain and asked for a cup of tea.  My father built a fire outside the clinic and made tea.  They drank tea together and then she died.  I’ve never forgotten that day.

Years later, in 2008, I returned to Ethiopia with my father to help him with work on village level water projects.  During that trip, I asked about women.  Medical providers told me that one in ten women were still dying in childbirth.  I knew then, that as a medical doctor, I had to do something.

When the need is so great, and the poverty so deep, how do you intervene?  Where do you begin? 
I took two years to think about that. 

In 2010, a small group of us came together to form the Village Health Partnership.  We made it our mission to work to prevent maternal and neonatal death in childbirth and to treat and prevent gynecologic complications of childbirth.  

WHO data suggested that access to birth control, skilled assistance at the time of delivery and emergency obstetric care (i.e. cesarean section) were the single most important interventions that are required to prevent maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality in childbirth.  We knew that USAID has been working with Engender Health and the Ethiopian Government to make birth control more accessible in the rural areas.  So as not to duplicate development efforts, we chose to focus VHP programs on improving access to health care.

In western Ethiopia, we began with a Screen, Transport and Treat Program to identify and treat women with gynecologic complications of childbirth including fistula.  With organs hanging down to their knees, and leaking urine and stool with no water to bathe, affected women hide in shame.  Once identified, those in need are transported to a hospital where they undergo surgical treatment.

In southwestern Ethiopia we are working on prevention efforts. The Ethiopian Government is encouraging pregnant women to come into health facilities where it is hoped that they will deliver more safely than at home.  Unfortunately, health facilities in the rural areas are actually deadly places to deliver.  There is no water, open defecation is common, surgical instruments aren’t sterilized and delivery tables are often dilapidated and covered with dried blood. Through a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and Maternal Health Initiative we are targeting 10 medical facilities (one Regional Hospital, three District Hospitals and six Health Centers) where we are working to implement access to water, measures for sanitation and hygiene, and infrastructure for maternal health.

We also support education and training programs.  We give village women scholarships to become nurse midwives and we test, train and mentor nurse midwives in the health facilities where we are working. 

Since 2010, we have significantly grown as an organization.
To date we have treated more than 1000 women through the Screen, Transport and Treat Program.  The program directly reaches women in need and, in the process, creates a health system of care.  Under the program, Aira General Hospital and the Dembi Dollo University Teaching Hospital are now becoming centers of excellence for women’s health in the western part of the country.

Through the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene and Maternal Health Initiative, a health system of care is emerging in the West Omo and Bench Sheko Zones of southwestern Ethiopia that impacts more than 700,000 people, 50% of whom are women.  Now pregnant mothers have a chance to access clean and safe delivery care.

Finally, VHP has provided 22 women with three-year scholarships to become nurse midwives. And now nurse midwives in the facilities where we are working are getting the training and support they need to become strong, competent providers of critical delivery services.

We are a small organization, but, like a stone thrown into a pond, we are sending a ripple effect of development throughout western and southwestern Ethiopia.  As we break down barriers to seeking, reaching and receiving care, we are creating health systems of care that are beginning to give women access to the medical assistance that they so desperately need. 

Thank you for this award that shines the spotlight on the women of rural Ethiopia.

Thank you to our generous donors, to the VHP Board of Directors past and present, to everyone at Water Engineers for the Americas and Africa, and to all of you who have worked with us, volunteered for us and supported us in the United States and to our valued partners on the ground in Ethiopia.

Indeed, it takes a village to move mountains!

Thank you!


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With your help, we are changing the lives of women in rural Ethiopia – one mother at a time.

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