4. April 2017

Making maternity even safer

Giving birth in Ethiopia has become much safer since 1990, but 13 000 women and 100 000 newborns still die every year. A new grant from the Kavli Trust to Denmark’s Maternity Foundation aims to improve this position.

Text and photo: Maternity Foundation

Ninety per cent of these fatalities could have been avoided if a trained midwife had been present, the foundation maintains. It has spent the past decade seeking to improve conditions for women and babies.


The birth of twins almost ended in tragedy for Mitike Birhanu a couple of years ago. She lives in a rural community in western Ethiopia.

“Just before dawn, I felt sharp back pains. Labour had started,” Birhanu recalls. “My father and the neighbours tried to call an ambulance, but without avail. So they decided to carry me on a traditional stretcher to the local clinic.”

She gave birth there to a healthy boy. But his twin, a girl, got stuck and emerged without signs of life. Birhanu herself was unconscious by this point. Her sister, Ababaye Fufa, was present and started to mourn the stillborn child. Then she saw the midwives had begun resuscitation by holding a bag valve mask (or Ambu Bag) over the baby’s nose while patiently pumping oxygen into it.

“The girl was lifeless, but slowly began to breath,” relates Ababaye. “She was restored to life by the health workers.”


The Maternity Foundation’s programme on enhancing maternal and neonatal health takes an integrated approach to this subject. It works both at the system level, building personnel capacity to improve health care, and locally to put women in a position to seek necessary help.

The Kavli Trust has been a key supporter of the foundation’s work in Ethiopia since 2013. That backing has contributed to a sharp improvement in the health of both pregnant and birthing women in the West Wollega project area.

Thanks to this programme, pregnant women receiving health care and births with a trained midwife present are up 60 and 30 per cent respectively compared with other districts. Important outcomes also include the creation of a national accredited training centre in Gimbie, and construction of a “waiting home” for pregnant women about to give birth. In addition comes the provision of health education for 190 000 people and health information for five million through local radio broadcasts.


A new grant from the Kavli Trust for 2017-19 will allow the foundation to extend its health programme to nine further districts with 660 000 inhabitants. It has also developed the Safe Delivery App (see information and video here) and the Lucy text message service, which will be integrated in the programme.

That will equip the foundation to document the effect and draw new lessons for its work of implementing corresponding projects in other countries. “The Kavli Trust has been fundamental for our ability to achieve such good results over the past four years,” says Anne Frellsen, general manager of the foundation. “We’re very grateful that it’s renewed its confidence in us, which makes it possible to reach very many more women and newborns. “The results we achieve and the expertise we’ll acquire over the next three years will not only benefit West Wollega residents, but also provide a platform for upscaling the programme. “That in turn will help to secure safe births for millions of women in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia.”

Read more about the Maternity Foundation here.