As the world marks the International Women’s Day 2012, AMREF would like to pay tribute to women all over the world, and in particular to African mothers. Over the years, women have made great progress in many fields, including business, academia, research, sports and political leadership. There are more girls in school and more women in salaried employment.
Despite women’s progress in the political, social and economic realms, there are still areas of grave concern that urgently need the world’s attention. Reproductive health, including gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and the high levels of maternal deaths in developing countries are issues that have been on the global agenda for decades, but in which there has been little progress. It is an indisputable fact that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cannot be met without improving the health and welfare of women. All the MDGs are closely linked to women’s welfare, and AMREF is particularly keen on helping sub-Saharan Africa move as close as possible to those related to health.
For AMREF, gender is a common denominator without which the organisation’s core values and beliefs cannot be fully realised. Discrimination is one of the main causes of poverty, and a major obstacle to equitable and sustainable global human development. Women and girls in poor and marginalised African communities find themselves further marginalised because of their gender, making them even more vulnerable to poverty and poor health. For this reason, AMREF strives, in all its programmes, to ensure that all human beings – women, men, girls and boys – are treated equally in terms of dignity and rights.
To help remedy these discrepancies, AMREF’s Business Plan 2011-2014 is focused on transforming the health of communities by improving the health of women and children. In all our programmes, AMREF is paying special attention to women’s health. Our water and sanitation programmes ensure that women do not spend long hours every day searching for water. Instead, they are able to use the time to take care of their families, and to engage in projects that boost the family’s income. With improved sanitation, girls do not have to miss school during their monthly periods, improving their school attendance and performance, as is the case in Mkuranga, Tanzania, and Juba, South Sudan. Our HIV and TB programmes aim not only to prevent and treat the diseases, but also to empower women and give them life skills to enhance their lives. Take for instance our work in Kechene, Ethiopia, and in Kawempe, Uganda, where AMREF equips community health workers with information and skills to stay healthy if they choose to remain in the trade, and alternative means of earning a livelihood if they choose to change.
AMREF is also placing great emphasis on a growing concern in Africa to which little attention has been given so far – cervical cancer. In South Africa, cervical cancer screening is being incorporated into integrated testing and counseling activities, and in Loitokitok, Kenya, AMREF has trained 24 health workers in 12 health facilities to check women for cervical cancer. Similarly, in AMREF’s new programme in Senegal West Africa, the very first outreach mission to that country targeted women who have suffered vesico vaginal fistula, a devastating effect of obstructed labour.
Of particular concern to AMREF is the high rate of maternal death in Africa, where 200,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year, leaving behind 1.5 million orphans and leading to loss of immense productivity potential. Most of these deaths are caused by preventable causes like HIV/AIDS, bleeding, high-blood pressure, unsafe abortion, obstructed labour, and anaemia as a result of malaria or poor nutrition. Many die because they do not know the importance of seeking professional health care during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
To raise awareness about the plight of the voiceless mothers who are at risk of dying every year, AMREF has launched Stand Up for African Mothers, an international campaign that aims to train 15,000 midwives by 2015 to contribute to the reduction of maternal deaths in Africa by 25 per cent. Midwives save lives. They educate mothers, look after them in pregnancy, assist them during delivery and follow up to make sure that baby and mother are fine. One midwife can look after 500 mothers every year, and safely deliver 100 babies.
As part of this campaign, AMREF is also supporting the nomination of Esther Madudu, a midwife from Uganda, for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. This is a highly symbolic nomination because through Esther, we want to honour all African midwives for the important role they play in saving the lives of mothers and their children. As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2012, AMREF encourages everyone to honour this special group of health workers by logging onto www.standupforafricanmothers.com and signing the petition for Esther’s nomination for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. AMREF would also like to take this opportunity to encourage all African s to contribute whatever they can to save mothers’ lives. Let us all Stand Up for African Mothers.
Dr Teguest Guerma
Director General, AMREF