On Friday November 11th, 2011, the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA), Rwanda met with over 25 journalists to sensitize them on safe motherhood. The one-day workshop was a way of sensitizing members of the National Alliance to participate and encourage others to join the fight against maternal and child mortality in Rwanda.
In her opening remarks, Chairperson of WRA Rwanda, Alphosine Mukarugema, also the President of the Forum for Female Rwandan Parliamentarians (FFRP), encouraged journalists to participate in creating awareness and educating the public about maternal health.
“The media is very important when it comes to improving maternal health. Since many Rwandans read newspapers, listen to radio stations and also watch television, the media is a vital channel through which such important information can be passed to the public,” Mukarugema said.
Mukarugema encouraged journalists to work hand in hand with Community Health Workers in villages to share information about the need for pregnant mothers to visit health centres so that they deliver in safe hands. This, in turn, would improve the welfare of Rwanda’s mothers and children.
During the workshop, the purpose of Rwanda’s involvement as a WRA National Alliance was emphasized. Rwanda is one of the 15 National Alliances and, at the national level, the programme was officially launched in 2008 by Jeannette Kagame, the First Lady also the Patron of WRA Rwanda.
Globally, the WRA is an international coalition of governments, institutions and individual members who are bound together by the common goal: ‘To ensure that pregnancy and childbirth are safe for all women and newborns in every country around the world.’ The WRA coalition is 150 countries strong.
Katy Woods, Global Mobilisation Coordinator, represented the WRA Global Secretariat at the workshop. She expounded on the need for Champions to spread the safe motherhood message.
She explained to journalists that WRA Champions are individuals with influence from all occupations, whether in the media, entertainment industry, politics, businesses or philanthropy, among several others.
During his presentation, Dr. Jeremie Zoungrana, the Country Director of JHPIEGO (John Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynaecology and Obstetrics), explained why the government’s commitment to reduce maternal mortality is a priority.
“The health budget should be increased to at least 15 percent of the national budget in order to improve maternal health,” Zougrana said. Adding that, “It is a woman’s basic right to achieve optimal health care throughout her pregnancy and child birth both for herself and her newborn.”
Through the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, Dr. Zoungrana said that women are empowered to demand quality, safe and respectful maternal care at health facilities and help other women to do the same, through the available services and information on safe motherhood.
The Rwandan Government has committed to reduce maternal mortality in order to achieve the MDG5 target.
According to Every Woman Every Child, UN website, ‘Rwanda commits to increasing heath sector spending from 10.9 percent to 15 percent by 2012; reducing maternal mortality from 750 per 100,000 live births to 268 per 100,000 live births by 2015 and to halve neonatal mortality among women who deliver in a health facility by training five times more midwives (increasing the ratio from 1/100,000 to 1/20,000).’
Maternal mortality and morbidity remains a major challenge worldwide. Women in developing countries are excessively affected by maternal mortality compared to those in the developed world. This is attributed to several health facilities that are inaccessible or lack of income to pay for maternity care. As a result, poor women are more vulnerable to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications and death.
Rwanda has a population of about 11 million yet statistics (RDHS 2010) indicate that Rwandan women on average give birth to 4.6 children throughout their lifetime. Even though modern family planning methods are available, only 45 percent of Rwandan women between the ages of 15 to 49 use them.
According to Dr. Felix Sayinzoga, Maternal and Child Health Officer at the Ministry of Health, 31 percent of women undergo unsafe delivery while at home in the absence of professional medical personnel.
This is an improvement from 48 percent unsafe deliveries reported in 2010. However, Rwanda’s maternal mortality rate remains at 383 per 100,000 live births.
Dr. Sayinzoga said that only 35 percent of women in Rwanda attend antenatal care more than four times. He attributes these low numbers to ignorance and irresponsible behaviour among parents who shun the need for antenatal and postnatal care.
“Even though public health insurance (Mituelle de Santé) is available, many women simply do not get it. I encourage families with expectant mothers to plan in advance and help women to attend antenatal care at least four times before child delivery. When they do this, they will avoid complications at birth and protect their lives and that of the babies,” Dr. Sayinzoga said.
This is where the role of journalists becomes critical.
Furaha Hakizimana, a reporter at Voice of America and Voice of Africa, said that the workshop was timely and necessary to empower journalists, especially during the current debate about sexuality among the youth.
“The issue of sexuality in Rwanda is serious. It is at a point where kids are becoming sexually engaged as early as 12 years!
“Many young girls and mothers are ignorant about their sexual rights and this is not helped by the fact that our culture and society does not encourage openness when it comes to communicating about sex between parents and children,” she said.
Furaha said that she feels the time is now for the media to become pro-active about maternal health and family planning matters.
“I would personally want the media to focus on the villages, involve local leaders, parents, and children in community discussions about early pregnancies and unsafe child births. This way, when shows are produced and testimonies shared from mothers and their daughters, then change will begin to happen in the rural communities that are most affected,” Furaha explained.
According to Andre Gitembagara, Head of the Rwanda Nurses and Midwives Association and the Project Officer of WRA, the workshop was a success because journalists committed to sensitise the local population on maternal health, family planning and antenatal care.
“There is no acceptable reason as to why mothers should die at childbirth; even one death is an injustice. I believe the maternal mortality figures have pushed journalists to act in order to improve the situation,” Gitembagara said.
While Rwanda is committed to attaining MDG5, several challenges, spanning from insufficient investment in infrastructure in rural areas, to low education among rural women and insufficient midwives (Rwanda has 400 qualified midwives), remain.