Telling Our Story: A midwife advocate starts local to make a national difference

Ms. Phoebe Lolly Mashao was the 2008 Save the Children Midwife Award winner, presented by The Princess Royal at the International Confederation of Midwives Congress 2008 in Glasgow. Ms. Mashao works in Limpopo, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa.

After receiving the 2008 Midwife Award, Lolly Mashao was appointed to the role of provincial clinical specialist by the Minister of Health in South Africa where she supervises up to 37 hospitals and strives to establish and improve newborn care services. While Lolly’s main role now is to specifically support newborn care in the province of Limpopo, Lolly was formally trained as a nurse-midwife and she continues to serve as an advocate for midwifes as her career has progressed.

Lolly began her profession as a nurse, where her passion for saving newborns and mothers was ignited. As a training nurse in South Africa, Lolly was required to train in midwifery as well. “After I had been trained, I had a particular interest in the neonates, to care for a sick baby, especially the babies who were not doing well after delivery.” Ensuring that all mothers give birth to healthy babies that ultimately survive became Lolly’s goal which led to her to begin a career in midwifery.

Through her work in clinics and hospitals, Lolly quickly recognized a big problem –in order to achieve her goal of saving these newborns, hospitals in South Africa would need the right equipment, management, skilled staff and standards of care. In order to fill these gaps and give health facilities the tools they needed, Lolly helped establish the Limpopo Initiative for Newborn Care (LINC), a program formed in partnership with the Limpopo Department of Health and the University of Limpopo to advocate for and support hospitals in the province to improve newborn care services.

After years of hard work and dedication, Lolly and her colleagues at LINC pioneered a package which included standards, guidelines, training materials and tools that could be used by any hospital in Limpopo which would enable them to establish quality newborn health services. After the success in the province, the package was then adopted at a national level and can now be utilized by hospitals across the country. While this was a huge achievement, Lolly knew there were still challenges ahead and that leadership would be a key component to the success of the package. “You can do all this work but if you don’t have the leadership to drive it at every facility, it’s actually a waste of time. We needed the dedicated neonatal doctors and nurses at every facility to oversee and ensure that the package was being implemented.” If the package were to succeed, Lolly knew she must serve as an advocate for the package and make doctors and nurses champions in newborn care.

As a former winner of the ICM Midwifery Award, Lolly has become a well-known advocate for midwifery and newborns, which led to her appointment in the province where she champions newborn care at a health systems level. The true success of Lolly’s work, however, is largely due to the robust network she has built and her time working inside the local health systems. Lolly’s knowledge of what the health facilities need to succeed in the province and how to navigate the various levels of the health systems of her country has allowed her to play a critical role in forwarding the agenda for newborn health in South Africa. Lolly can now help give midwives across the country the tools they need to succeed.

Despite the many challenges that midwives face in South Africa and around the world, Lolly urges them to follow their calling to help mothers and newborns. “What I can say to midwives is that you are born to love and born to service so let us be of service to humankind. Irrespective of your political, cultural or social standing, just do your service as you have been called to serve.” With champions in midwifery like Lolly, there is hope that more and more midwives will have the tools they need to follow their calling.

Do you know a midwife who is working to make a difference for the world’s mothers and babies? Help tell her story! Over the coming weeks leading up to the ICM triennial congress we will collect stories about midwives who are leaders in their field and champions for newborns. Send us a 300-600-word blog that include the midwife’s name, country of work, details about their career and how she or he is making a difference in the world for newborns.

Please send all blog submissions to We will post blogs on HNN and our social media accounts with the hashtag #MidwivesVoices and #ICM2017.

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