by HANNAH FORD
The road to motherhood isn’t easy, especially for women and girls from the Afar region of Ethiopia.
The Afar pastoralists who call this region home are often cut off from services many of us take for granted, as a result of their extremely remote location and nomadic way of life.
Here in Australia, we expect to have access to safe, respectful health care. In the Afar, it’s a very different story. Cost, distance and attitudes often prevent women and children from accessing formal health services and receiving the quality health care they deserve.
Few births take place in a health facility, and few women are supported through pregnancy and delivery by a skilled birth attendant. The barriers to safe motherhood are significant – and when an Afar mother dies, her baby has less chance of surviving.
Inspirational Aussie nurse, Valerie Browning, is determined to change this. She has lived among the Afar nomads for more than 20 years, and has worked tirelessly to improve their lives.
In the early ’90s, Valerie and a group of community members founded the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA).
“They seemed to be living alone in a bubble, in that as pastoralists, they were outside of development entirely,” says Valerie. “No health, no education, no nothing …”
The project recognises that improving maternal and child health must involve a holistic approach that addresses connected issues such as education and literacy, improving access to water, food security and livelihoods, along with the relevant health needs.
More than 90 per cent of Afar women give birth at home with the assistance of traditional birthing attendants (TBAs). The project realises that the struggle for safe motherhood must take place within Afar homes – led by the community and managed by the local government, including the traditional leadership.
The project aims to improve understanding and strengthen the links between traditional birthing practices and formal health services, and to increase the rates of skilled birth attendance within these communities. How do they do this?