Maternal mortality in Minya highlighted on World Population Day 2012

Edgar Mannheimer, Thursday 12 Jul 2012

The UNFPA has produced a documentary focused on one nurse in Minya, Upper Egypt, who is trying to save lives amid a traditional culture where knowledge about pregnancy and birth is at best basic

World Population Day event. Photo courtesy UNFPA

Each year, World Population Day (WPD) focuses attention on the importance of population and reproductive health, particularly in the context of sustainable development.

With world population surpassing seven billion, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA — formerly the UN Fund for Population Activities) is focusing its energies on one fundamental goal: universal access to reproductive health services, which is the theme of WPD 2012.

As part of fund’s efforts to recognise the people who make progress possible, those who help increase access to reproductive health and reproductive rights, UNFPA-Egypt produced a documentary about a nurse-cum-midwife who serves poor and isolated clients and contributes to saving lives every day in Minya, Upper Egypt.

On Wednesday, 11 July, UNFPA-Egypt celebrated WPD 2012 in their Garden City premises, with an informative press conference and screening of the film, titled The Tuk-Tuk Nurse-Midwife: Reducing Maternal Mortality in Upper Egypt.

"The documentary was shot in the context of a UNFPA programme implemented by the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, the principle partner of UNFPA-Egypt for projects aiming at enhancing maternal health, reducing maternal mortality, working on family planning and operationalising the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care," the press release informs.

The informative film (available on YouTube) provides insight into maternal mortality in Upper Egypt, looking at the situation of basic healthcare in Minya, and more specifically how mothers cope with pregnancy and giving birth with hospitals too far to reach and too expensive to afford. 

In the place exists a more primary tradition where a local woman, called a “daya,” takes care of a range of patients and helps them through their pregnancy and giving birth by going to their houses for a small fee.

The main problem is that dayas are often uneducated and many deaths and accidents occur as a result. A woman interviewed in the documentary testified that when it came to a daya helping a woman through birth it could be “hit and miss.”

Other than the practicality of the daya coming to one’s house and the affordable price, people preferred dayas in Upper Egypt because they are always female. Upper Egypt by culture is strongly traditional, and women — when it comes to intimate issues relative to reproductive health — are often less enthusiastic about, and may be discouraged from seeing, male doctors.

Dr Alaa Sultan launched a programme via UNFPA-Egypt to educate nurses in Minya to replace dayas with a safer but still affordable option. The film follows one of these nurses who herself lost an aunt because the daya who was taking care of her didn’t realise she was giving birth to twins before it was too late.

Sultan emphasised that a full theoretical and physical training programme is needed to be a professional midwife. At the end of the training prospective midwives take a test where 60 per cent is a passing grade. Sultan underlined that “if the nurse does not pass, she will not receive her license. It’s that simple.” A breath of fresh air in a country well accustomed to corruption.

This UNFPA initiative falls under the Millennium Development Goal of lowering global maternal mortality by two thirds by 2015.

Dr Magdy Khaled tied the issue to World Population Day by affirming that it is the right of all women “to have a secure birth, no matter what." "This is why we started the programme in Minya,” he added.


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