Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County – It was a moment of joy and optimism at the graduation ceremony of the Deanna Kay Isaacson School of Midwifery in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County when 34 young Liberians were confirmed as registered midwives following years of intensive studies.
The graduates, elegantly dressed in their uniforms, jubilantly marched along with their instructors and mentors towards the school’s auditorium for the indoor program.
Serving as guest speaker, the Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi pledged the UNFPA’s support to the institution and called on the graduates to go out and serve to save lives.
“We will continue our support to the Deanna Kay Isaacson School of Midwifery and other midwifery schools in Liberia as well as the health workforce including midwives across Liberia so more women survive childbirth and they, their families and communities thrive,” he said.
“I call upon you, the graduates to go forth and serve. Serve to save lives. Serve to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of women and girls so that they are healthy and productive to contribute to their own development, that of their families, communities, the nation of Liberia and Africa at large.”
The Deanna Kay Isaacson School of Midwifery (DKISM) near Zwedru was established in 1983 by the Ministry of Health and CHAL to cater to the lack of trained health workers, especially midwives in southeastern Liberia.
Students are recruited through a joint collaboration of the school’s administrators and county health teams in the southeast with an agreement that upon graduation, they will be assigned at health facilities in the region.
The school was badly affected during the civil war and reopened in 2008. In 2019, it was on the verge of closure because of lack of budgetary allotment when the UNFPA intervened and saved the school from closing. But before that meaningful intervention, UNFPA funded the construction of a modern stimulation lab for the school and equipped it with furniture, clinical teaching mannequins and other equipment and supplies to enhance clinical learning.
Dr. Ndyanabangi reaffirmed UNFPA’s commitment to supporting the Government and people of Liberia in improving its health workforce which, he noted, is key to achieving one of the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda for health—to “substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries”—as well as several other SDGs related to reduced inequalities.
The health workforce including the nursing and midwifery arms tends to be concentrated in cities, leaving women in rural areas with limited access to skilled care. But Dr. Ndyanabangi said the location of the Dianna K Isaacson Midwifery School places the institution in an ideal position to train new midwives in rural settings for rural health facilities, adding, he was impressed that almost all the midwives he met in hospitals and health centers on his tour of the southeast were trained in the school.
The mission of UNFPA, he noted, is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. And with the graduation of the 34 batch of students, he said “we are glad that your potential is being fulfilled and that you are going to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe.”
He revealed that over the last two years, UNFPA has invested close to US$100,000 for the construction of the Skills Lab and the up keep of the school.
In addition, UNFPA has supported the strengthening of the learning environment through the provision of basic student’s needs, teaching materials and internet services for sustainable delivering of high-quality midwifery instructions; support toward the improvement of didactic and clinical training through capacity building and technical updates for faculty and preceptors (midwives) through Continue Professional Development system with the Board of Nursing and midwifery.
The organization has also intervened towards the improvement in Midwifery Pre-Service Education information system through the Board of Nursing Data-based platform; strengthened primary clinical site at the Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital with funding from Spotlight Initiative and the Swedish Government and support for the continuity of distance teaching and learning through the provision of internet services and electronic devices amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
These immense contributions towards the increase in the health workforce, he said, are geared towards supporting the Ministry of Health Investment Plan (2015-2021) for building a resilient health system, adding “the need for building ‘a fit-for-purpose productive and motivated health workforce that equitably and optimally delivers quality services’ cannot be overemphasized and indeed, UNFPA is committed to support the achievement in Liberia.”
He paid homage to midwives for being the backbone of maternal health systems – delivering babies and much more, adding that they stand by women when they are most vulnerable.
According to him, midwives fight daily to defend a woman’s human right to go through pregnancy and childbirth safely, even as they themselves often face discrimination, sexual harassment and unequal pay; challenges he noted, are now being exacerbated by the fear and uncertainty over COVID-19.
“Traditionally, midwives have played a vital role in responding to pandemics. With national health systems in many countries totally overwhelmed, midwives are demonstrating their courage and resilience by continuing to support childbearing women in the toughest of circumstances.”
Because of midwives, he said millions of women each year are able to exercise their right to sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning; services that help ensure wanted, healthy pregnancies and safe births.
Liberia Stills Lacking Behind
The UNFPA Country Representative, further in his speech mentioned thatthe UN Sustainable Development Goals has estimated an average of four midwives and nurses per 1,000 population. But Liberia still has 0.5 midwives per 1000 population.
He said that is one of the reasons Liberia is still having 1,072 out of 100 thousand women and girls dying in childbirth every year in Liberia, and many of these women and girls who survive also lose their babies during the first month of life while others have to endure the childbearing injury of obstetric fistula.
Addressing the audience, he said these women and girls could have been saved by the care of well-trained midwives within the framework of strong health systems.
Since 2009, UNFPA has worked with partners in many countries to support the training of more than 80,000 midwives in 600 midwifery schools; strengthened national midwifery associations in 75 countries and helped enhance the regulatory framework for midwifery practice to ensure accountability.
Also speaking, the Director of the school. Mrs. Sawah K. Shaffa, on behalf of the institution thanked Dr. Ndyanabangi and UNFPA for saving the school from closure and all of the support the organization continues to render.
“We say thank you Dr. Ndyanabangi and UNFPA family. To us and these graduates and students, you are like a savior. We say thank you for everything,” she averred.
Speaking further, she however said, despite the immense contributions of UNFPA, the school continues to grapple with several challenges that if not addressed, could threatened its operation.
Among these challenges include the unsettled salary of several staff. According to her, some of the workers are on government payroll while some are not.
For those on payroll, she said they are being underpaid and through the government’s harmonization process, their pay has reduced while some have not been paid for about 15 months.
Those who are not government’s payroll, she revealed, are being given stipend by UNFPA but have threatened to leave if they are not prioritized by government.
She called on the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health to intervene and stop their effort from going down the drain.
“We don’t want your dream to die because this is your work. You initiated it, and when it is closed down, it will be like killing your dream,” she urged.
On behalf of the Ministry of Health, the Assistant Minister for Curative Affairs, Dr. Gorbee G. Logan thanked UNFPA for its immense support to the school. He also lauded the school’s administrators and students for their resilience and pledged government’s support to the institution.
“We understand all of the challenges you are going through, and on behalf of the Government of Liberia, I want to pledge our support to the midwifery sector. I am going to blow your trumpet,” Dr. Logan promised.
The Valedictorian, Marculay S. Tarlee, on behalf of his colleagues, thanked UNFPA and the school for the support during the course of their studies and admonished his fellow graduates to manage their expectation and work diligently to save lives.
The event held in Zwedru recently, was also graced by cross section of people including officials of the health sector working in the southeast and as well as parents of the graduates.