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News, 3/6/2018

Somalia - one of the most dangerous countries for mothers

Somalia is slowly recovering from the civil war and maternal mortality remains high. Finland supports the training of midwives and the efforts to improve maternal health services so that mothers can give birth safely.

Sulekha Dayib Yonis, aged 28, is sitting on her hospital bed and holds a girl weighing 1.4 kilos on her hands. Yonis lives three hours’ drive away on the Ethiopian border and was taken by car to a hospital in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. The baby was born two months early. Her waters had broken but she did not go into labour at home. The baby could have died in the womb.

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Sulekha Dayib Yonis came to the hospital because she went into labour prematurely. The girl, weighing only 1.4 kilos, would have died without hospital care. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu.

“We had to sell some of our goats so that we could pay my journey to the hospital. I was really fortunate because the people here knew how to help me and my baby,” Yonis explains.
Yonis had already given birth to six children one of whom had died after being born prematurely. In that case the help came too late.

“We lost the baby in the night after the birth,” says Yonis, quietly.

Yonis received professional care in the Hargeisa hospital but many Somali mothers still do not have access to health services. In Somalia, a total of 732 mothers die for every 100,000 births. According to last year’s statistics, maternal mortality in Somalia was the sixth highest in the world. An average of three Finnish mothers have died in childbirth in recent years, making Finland one of the best countries to give birth.

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The seventh child of Sulekha Dayib Yonis was born prematurely in the Hargeisa hospital in the Somaliland. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu.

Incubators save the lives of newborn babies

Faduma Hassan Abdi, a nurse working in the Hargeisa hospital, is checking the condition of a small baby under a heat lamp. Premature babies receive heat treatment in the hospital. Premature births are common in the Hargeisa area because as a result of a drought, mothers and children are extremely poorly nourished. Malnutrition among mothers means more difficult childbirths and increases the likelihood of premature births. Finland supports the project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in which Somali doctors and nurses living in Finland and other countries provide local health care professionals with training in maternal and child health matters. The work has already produced results. Child mortality in the hospital has decreased by more than 90 per cent.

“In the past, 84 children died here each month. The figure has now dropped to six,” Abdi says.

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Faduma Hassan Abdi is looking after premature babies in the Hargeisa hospital. There has been a substantial reduction in child mortality in the hospital. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also supports the work of the Hargeisa hospital. Finland is one of the largest financial contributors to UNFPA's work in Somalia. The organisation supports the efforts to improve sexual and reproductive health services in the country and works to ensure that people can use these rights. In 2016, the services saved the lives of 650 Somali mothers in childbirth. On average, each Somali woman gives birth to 6.2 children. Only 29 per cent of them have access to up-to-date contraceptive methods of their choice. UNFPA's family planning assistance helped to prevent 115,000 unwanted pregnancies in 2016.

Qualified midwives save mothers

Young women wearing pink headscarves are taking notes in a biology lesson in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. The women will complete their studies this spring, becoming qualified midwives. The Mogadishu Midwifery School was established in 2014 and it is financially supported by UNFPA.

A total of 150 women have already qualified as midwives from the school. Decades of civil war ended the training of midwives and led to the collapse of health care services in the country. Somalia needs 22,000 midwives before it can meet the recommendations on safe childbirths issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). A qualified healthcare professional was present in only nine per cent of all childbirths in Somalia in 2016.

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Naimo Mohammed Hirabe will become the first qualified midwife in her village. Photo: Joonas Lehtipuu.

Naimo Mohammed Hirabe, a student at the Mogadishu Midwifery School, has already completed her practical hospital training and has helped in hospital childbirths. The hospitals deal with the most difficult cases, which means that the students also have to encounter death.

“Mothers often come here when it's too late. They wait too long at home before coming here, which means that many of them die of bleeding. They should get treatment well before the childbirth,” Hirabe explains.

Hirabe comes from southern Somalia. When she returns to her home village, she will be the first qualified midwife in the village.
“It’s a great feeling when I can help mothers in my village. A successful childbirth is always a fantastic experience.”

Minttu-Maaria Partanen

The author works as a freelance journalist

Finland supports Somali mothers

Finland is providing Somalia with EUR 25.7 million in bilateral assistance  in 2017–   2020. A total of 60 per cent of the funds are channelled to work supporting  girls’ and women's rights.

Finland is one of the biggest financial contributors to the Somalia country programme     of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The focus in the work is on maternal, sexual and reproductive health services and on the efforts  to reduce gender-based violence.

Finland also supports the efforts to improve maternal health through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Somali doctors and nurses  living in Finland train    local health care professionals. The work has already produced results: child mortality   in the Hargeisa hospital has decreased from 24 per cent to five per cent

Helping to improve the position of women and girls is the main priority in Finnish development policy. The first International Gender Equality Prize was awarded to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.  She chose to donate the EUR 150,000 prize to Femmes et Enfants Victimes de Violence Familiales (SOS FEVVF), which is a Niger organisation fighting to prevent violence against women and girls. The prize was awarded on 6 March in Tampere.

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