Commitment and passion despite all odds: A message to midwives around the world

Catherine Oluwatoyin Ojo is a recipient of the ICM Save the Children Every One Midwife Award 2011. She works in Zaria, in Northern Nigeria where she is the chief nursing officer at the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital.

Soon after receiving the award at the ICM Congress, HNN talked to her about her background, her role as a midwife in Nigeria and how getting the Midwife of the year Award has changed her life.

What does it mean to you to win the ICM Save the Children Midwife of the year Award?

Winning this award has actually added more responsibility for me because many people have now learned about my work and want me to be an advocate for midwives and newborn health. But I am highly motivated for the cause of maternal and newborn care and I feel highly honoured by God.

Midwives from my country and from Africa at large, need to work harder, have greater commitment, and passion for women and newborns despite all odds.

What has been the most memorable moment for you at the ICM Congress?

It was very influential hearing about maternal and newborn health in Malawi from the First Lady of Malawi, Callista Mutharika. They have similar problems to Northern Nigeria where culture still interferes with access to care, but they are working hard and seeing a reduction of mortality. They are training community midwives and building maternity waiting homes. Nigeria can learn from Malawi’s experience.

Helping Babies Breathe was also a good experience as it helped me understand neonatal resuscitation better, and I was presented with a kit for training, which I will use in Nigeria.

Are there other lessons you will bring back to Nigeria from the ICM Congress?

The State of the World Midwifery Report needs to be shared with Nigerian policy makers. I will use this report to advocate for the recommendations to be adapted in Nigeria. Maternal and newborn mortality can drastically be reduced by 2015 if we use the information in the report. I believe that with God and action it is possible.

What message would you like to share with the rest of the world on the importance of newborn health and midwives?

It is very important for midwives to respect the culture, values, and religion of the people in the community in order to save newborns. We need to also sensitise traditional leaders and other community leaders to utilize the health facilities as well as empower women with education and skills so they can make the best decisions for themselves and their babies. Midwives need to be skilled in neonatal resuscitation and other life saving skills. PMTCT is also essential as well as keeping records and promote research.

Respecting culture is an important point that will allow midwives to save more lives. How have you involved the men in the community in the health of the mothers and newborns?

When the fathers accompany his pregnant wife to the clinic, I spend time talking to them. I try to empower the fathers to be change agents in their communities. I tell them that they have a role to play, and that if they see a pregnant mother they need to make sure that she gets to a clinic.

I also tell them to look out for danger signs, like if their wife has swollen legs. I educate the dads about danger signs once the baby is born, such as if it has a temperature or isn’t eating well. If the baby is premature I also teach the fathers about Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC).

Do you have any thoughts on your future work?

When I did paediatric nursing, I was exposed to research methodology and the importance of evidence based information. It has motivated me to present papers at the Paediatrics Association of Nigeria Conferences about the role of paediatric nurses in the reduction of neonatal mortality. Since I have already achieved the peak of my career as a Chief Nursing Officer in a tertiary hospital, I would like to further my education to promote maternal and child health.

Catherine and Madina, both recipients of the award, along with Save the Children’s Dr. Joy Lawn.

Catherine was recognized for her leadership in maternal and newborn health care and research. She has had a long and distinguished career as a midwife, and aside from her job at the ABUTH teaching hospital in Zaria, Nigeria, Catherine is also a fellow at the West African College of Nursing and involved in research work on how to take care of HIV exposed infants.

In her region, almost 90 percent of women give birth at home. Each year 250,000 newborns die of largely preventable causes in Nigeria, the highest number in Africa, and the fourth highest of any country in the world.

Photos: Jane Hahn/Save the Children, ICM

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