In French, the word for “midwife” is “sage femme” – which literally translated into English means “wise woman.” Wise women have been assisting childbirth for thousands of years – in fact, it’s one of the world’s oldest professions – but especially in French-speaking Africa where maternal and newborn mortality is stubbornly high, we need many more of them to help women and families survive pregnancy and childbirth, and thrive.
The good news is that the shortage of midwives in Francophone West Africa is being taken seriously. More and more, people are realizing that midwives are key to a healthy future, taking steps to recognize the profession, as well as prioritizing training and development. And midwives themselves are seeing that by learning more and taking on leadership roles they can truly effect change.
The Management Development Institute (MDI), an initiative managed by the Global Community Impact team at Johnson & Johnson, exists to assist African Ministries of Health in reaching their overall national health priorities and improving the effectiveness of health systems. Focused on health workers in Africa, including midwives, the initiative initially launched in Anglophone Kenya and South Africa, and now also includes a French program based in Dakar, Senegal, to cater to the needs of health systems in French-speaking Africa. Like its Anglophone counterpart, this program enhances the leadership and management skills of people devoted to delivering on the front lines of care while tailoring the management tools according to local context.
In listening to the midwives who have come to us for training, we are hearing a consistent theme: a desire to learn and develop leadership skills. Often, program participants come from remote areas, and their opinions and voices are not heard. By seeking out and receiving the training that is designed to meet their needs, they can in turn advocate for themselves and their profession, build their skills, and train others, thereby creating ever stronger health systems. In response to this strong desire to gain enhanced leadership skills, and recognizing regional needs, we expanded the Francophone MDI curriculum from the original eight modules to 15 modules to build in additional leadership training and human resource management components.
One Francophone MDI trainee that stands out in my mind is Agueratou Ilboudo – a young midwife from the region of Pô in Burkina Faso. A leader in her district, Agueratou has dedicated herself to bringing midwifery services to remote communities where there previously were none and created a thirst for learning among her colleagues, including fellow health workers and midwives.
Time and time again, Agueratou has sought out new learning and leadership opportunities as she knows that is the key to continuously improving health. Following her graduation from MDI, and in search of continued learning opportunities, Agueratou received a scholarship from the government of Burkina Faso to attend the 31 st International Confederation of Midwives Triennial Congress in June 2017. I have no doubt she will benefit from this experience and return with many more lessons learned to impart on her community.
Agueratou said it wisely: “Maternity work is more than noble, since it acts at the very foundation of all humanity… mother, child, family, and community.” It is up to all of us to make sure that “sage femmes” like Agueratou are recognized for what they do for humanity, and that they get the support they need to lift up their profession, and the health of women and communities in Francophone Africa and beyond.
Professor Mame Yauto Faye is the Regional Director of the Francophone Management Development Institute. MDI targets health workers in Africa, including midwives, to strengthen their abilities in management and leadership so that populations have better access to health care services. For more, please visit www.mdichip.org.