Malawi President Lifts Midwife Ban After News Reports Paint A Grim Picture for Pregnant Women

Nov 32010

Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika had just returned home from New York where he had been attending a UN heads of state summit to review the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), making a detour through Havana—a city known more for its cigars than for its pies.

As is customary, he held a press conference when he touched down at Chileka International Airport and used the occasion to flay his critics for complaining that his numerous foreign trips were draining the national treasury. In a fit of anger, he called them “drunks and empty heads” for failing to understand that every time he boarded the presidential jet to go overseas, he was flying the national flag high.

And then without warning, he changed tack and announced that his government was lifting the ban on traditional birth attendants (TBAs). Mutharika said that his Ministry of Health made a grave mistake when it banned them in 2007, thinking that would reduce maternal mortality which currently stands at 807 per 100, 000 live births.

Said Mutharika: “We shouldn’t completely stop traditional birth attendants because their work is very important but train them to assist us in addressing maternal health challenges.

” His change in policy was announced shortly after the Weekend Nation went out on a limb to advocate for the reinstatement of TBAs in the interest of safe motherhood.

In a five-part series, the Weekend Nation reported pregnant women in remote rural areas giving birth on river banks and in snake-infested bushes as they walked to poorly equipped, chronically understaffed health centers in the middle of nowhere! It also showcased TBAs, who still continue to deliver babies in unhygienic and unsanitary maternity huts in most parts of the country because theirs was the only obstetric facility around.

All said, the lifting of the ban on TBAs is a moral victory for journalism and for the Weekend Nation—and I am happy to have played a part in a story that would have gone untold. Since the president lifted the ban, Bobby Kabango, the young reporter I worked with on the series, has been glowing like a 100-watt bulb and walking with a spring in his step. His self-assurance and enthusiasm in The Nation’s world-weary newsroom remind me of something the late Soviet writer and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg once said:—“You can cover the whole world with asphalt but a few blades of grass will still break through.”