Empowered Community Midwives Save Lives: Asmahan Taha’s Story
"When I witnessed the death of several mothers due to tetanus, as well as the death of one of my babies, I decided to follow my passion despite the challenges." — Asmahan, a Yemeni midwife
Community midwives in Yemen venture where few women dare to go, over rocky paths, through the night, beating the odds to save lives. Without a doubt, they play an important role in improving maternal and child health in Yemen, where access to healthcare is limited, particularly in rural areas.
Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the Middle East and North Africa region, with an estimated 164 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
One of Yemen’s local champions is Asmahan, a community midwife in Ash Shamaytayn District in Ta’izz Governorate. She provides maternal, newborn, and child healthcare services in remote and underserved areas as one of 231 community midwives trained and deployed by the USAID-funded Systems, Health and Resiliency Project implemented by JSI. Asmahan's passion for supporting her community members began when she was young. However, she faced challenges and difficulties that prevented her from studying midwifery at an early age and the conservative nature of Yemeni society was a key challenge.
"When I witnessed the death of several mothers due to tetanus, as well as the death of one of my babies, I decided to follow my passion despite the challenges," Asmahan said.
In Yemen, social norms and distance are two key barriers preventing women from getting a good education and finding work. However, Asmahan fought to achieve her dream and successfully graduated in 2014 at the age of 36 after spending long periods of time away from her family.
For the past nine years, she has provided antenatal care, postnatal care, family planning counseling, and delivery assistance to pregnant women. She also promotes healthy practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding and proper nutrition for lactating women and their children. Community midwives are often the only healthcare providers in their communities, and they play a vital role in identifying and referring complicated cases to health facilities.
USAID has supported Asmahan and other community midwives in 14 districts in Yemen through training and midwifery kits, and in remote areas, transportation allowance, which have enabled them to provide higher quality care to mothers and children and save lives. “I received training in maternal, newborn and child health care. I gained new knowledge and skills,” she said.
Asmahan recounted a difficult case in which she was called after midnight to see a mother in labor with twins. The mother was bleeding after the delivery of the first baby, and the hospital was 90 minutes away from the village. Asmahan applied the knowledge she learned and used the equipment in the midwifery kit to stop the bleeding and help the mother deliver the other twin safely. She used the equipment provided by the USAID-funded program for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to get the second baby’s heart pumping. The flashlight in the midwifery kit came in handy as there was no electricity in the house due to the poor living conditions of the family. Asmahan used that flashlight to find her way to the mother’s house through the dark night. Asmahan's efforts saved the mother's life and the life of her child.
“I will never forget the tears of happiness on the grandmother’s face after her daughter was saved. I also saved a premature newborn who was on the brink of death by providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which gave us time to refer the newborn to the hospital. After he was released, I taught the mother how to apply kangaroo mother care (strapping the baby close to the mother’s chest, skin to skin) and now the baby is a healthy one-year-old,” Asmahan said.
Asmahan's role in her community has empowered her among community members, and people listen to her advice, which has eased the process for her being able to provide awareness and education activities. She has also built strong relationships with community leaders and charitable individuals who support poor families in accessing advanced maternal and newborn health care services.
“Thanks to the project, we have been able to improve the quality of care we provide, leading to visits from numerous mothers outside our usual catchment areas," she said.
Asmahan expressed her hope that the program's support for community midwives will continue, as it has made a significant difference in the work they do. She wants to improve her knowledge through additional training and focus more on providing family planning services.
“I’m happy because I was selected with other community midwives to establish a home-based private clinic. I hope the [project] support to the community midwives will not stop as it has made a huge difference in the work we do,” she added.
Asmahan's dedication to improving maternal and child health in Yemen is inspiring. Project support continues to help her and other community midwives save lives and provide quality care in their communities.