Canadian midwives Alixandra Bacon, Kelly Chisolm, and Beverly O’Brien were recently together at the CAM offices in Montreal to work on phase 2 of the Strengthening Midwifery Services in South Sudan (SMSII) project. They will be collaborating with South Sudanese midwives to strengthen the South Sudanese Nurses and Midwives Association (SSNAMA), recruit new members, and access resources.

In 2015, CAM was approached to partner with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on an existing project to strengthen midwifery services in the world’s newest country of South Sudan. The 5-year Strengthening Midwifery Services (SMS) project (phase 2), supported by Global Affairs Canada, led by the UNFPA in partnership with CAM, and South Sudan’s Ministry of Health officially began in spring 2016. South Sudan has among the world’s highest maternal, newborn and child mortality rates, due in part to the critical shortage of skilled health care providers. Through the provision of capacity building initiatives for midwives and other health care providers, CAM and its partners hope to improve health outcomes in South Sudan. CAM will provide direct peer-to-peer mentoring support and technical expertise from practicing Canadian midwives, as well as other MNCH professionals.

Team leader for the association strengthening component of the SMSII project, BC midwife Alixandra Bacon plans to share with the Sudanese ‘’what worked for us here in Canada and what didn’t, our strengths and pitfalls’’, adding that ‘’we’re also going to have to get a good understanding from them of what’s unique about their situation and how we might have to approach things differently’’.

All three midwives have had prior experience working in an international context. They all agree that this project represents a mutual exchange of knowledge and skills. Since retiring from nursing and midwifery, Edmonton midwife Bev O’Brien has been researching ways to strengthen maternity care and motherhood in Africa, such as providing support for women with obstetric fistula. She thinks that the South Sudanese will be able to teach members of the CAM-Global team what are the underlying issues to establishing a strong midwifery organisation and how best to provide the education to midwives that will strengthen and allow them to provide the best possible care to birthing women. “They will be teaching us what they need. How do South Sudanese women learn? What are the best strategies for them to present information to each other. How do they communicate? What are the issues among the many tribal groups in South Sudan that may impair their ability to form a strong organization. How they get their message out so it is received by the people they want to receive it.“

Halifax midwife Kelly Chisholm will be acting as technical consultant for the South Sudan project. Kelly studied international development before becoming a midwife. This project is a way for her to merge those two worlds. ‘’I was brought on to support the aspect of the project that is involved with strengthening the association in South Sudan. It’s certainly an area I’m passionate about given how small my profession is in Nova Scotia, and having seen over the last 10-13 years that a small group can make quite a strong impression.’’ In the long term, she hopes to see an improvement in the maternal newborn health of the people of South Sudan, “to see a decrease in the morbidity and mortality rate and to see an expansion of services”. She is confident that this project can make a difference.

“What really struck a chord with this project was the support that it has through the UNFPA and Global Affairs Canada. This is a project that isn’t just going into a country and slapping a band-aid on a problem and walking away, this is something that has longevity, it has teeth and more importantly it has a level of sustainability which I’m hopeful will make a difference to the south Sudanese people.”

– Kelly Chisholm

All three members of the Canadian midwifery team are excited at the prospect of heading out to the field. Ms O’Brien is especially pleased with CAM’s pre-departure training. “They are really engaging with us to do the best we can and to reasonably expect that this first trip will probably be one where we really start to establish relationships with the Sudanese nurses and midwives and hear what their needs are to continue the program.”

The South Sudan project is one of several CAM-Global projects which will be rolling out in the coming months. There will be a need for more Canadian midwives interested in overseas placements. Ms Bacon strongly encourages other Canadian midwives to get involved with CAM’s Global program: ‘’Whether you’re working in South Sudan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, DRC, any of those projects. You get this beautiful insight into what it means to be a midwife, if you distill it right down. What is a midwife, regardless of culture or setting or workplace. And it gives you great insight into what we do well here, and what we could do better, and what we could do differently’’.

For midwives interested in getting more information or to apply: Opportunities for Midwives

To access the full-length Newsletter:  Read the Newsletter

Canadian midwives Alixandra Bacon, Kelly Chisolm and Beverly O’Brien
Alixandra Bacon, midwife supporting the UNFPA South Sudan Project, shares her insights on working with midwives in South Sudan.

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