Cindy Hénault Robert is the CAM-Global project officer for Midwives Save Lives (MSL), a project undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada currently underway in Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and Tanzania and being implemented in partnership with Cuso International.

Cindy recently returned from a two-week field trip to Benin where she had the chance to meet with representatives of the local midwives’ association and visited the region where the project will take place. We sat down for a conversation with Cindy to discuss project details, the Benin context in which it will take place and how Canadian midwives can help.

Emmanuelle Hébert and Cindy Hénault Robert with a group of health administrators at the Adja Ouèrè maternity ward. In pink, one of the health facility’s two midwives. They catch around 35 births per month.

C: On September 17th, I flew from Montreal to Contonou (Benin) with CAM president Emmanuelle Hébert to meet with our partner sister association, the Association des sages-femmes du Benin (ASFB). It was our first time in Benin and we were very well received by the president of the midwives’ association, Mme Laurence Monteiro, and the members of the administrative council. The goal of our trip was to continue building CAM’s relationship with our sister association and project partner and to learn about the midwifery context in their country. We also worked on finalizing the project’s activities in Benin – particularly those focussed on association strengthening- and identified volunteer and consultant opportunities for Canadian midwives.

C: The goal of the Midwives Save Lives (MSL) project is to contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality in Benin, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and Tanzania. Research shows that improving the quality of care is often more important to the reduction of maternal and child mortality than increasing the quantity of midwives because it encourages more women to use midwifery services and increases the ability of healthcare providers to save lives. The project aims to improve the quality of midwifery care, increase its utilization by communities and women and lastly, to increase the influence of midwives and the recognition of midwifery as a cost effective, high quality path to improved reproductive, maternal and newborn health and rights through the strengthening of midwifery associations. The over $12 million project is being implemented in partnership with Cuso International, an Ottawa based NGO, and is funded through the Government of Canada’s Partnerships for Strengthening Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. Canadian expertise and volunteers are central to the project’s success. We will be calling upon CAM midwives to share their knowledge and skills with midwives and midwifery associations in the target countries, in what we are sure will be mutually beneficial and rewarding exchanges.

C: In Benin, there are 405 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births (compared to 7 in Canada)[1] and for every 1,000 live births, 100 children under 5 will die (compared to 5 in Canada). Of those, 64 are children under 1. Significant issues exist around access and availability of health services. Gender specific socio-cultural factors are also at play, such as limits on a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her body and the care she receives.

In Benin, midwives are trained at one of two national universities. Once graduated, they may work in hospitals and health centres (public or private) and are responsible for a range of services including prenatal care, labour and delivery (including some emergencies), post-partum care and family planning. They have a very heavy workload and midwives working in rural settings, like the project’s target region in Benin, often work in understaffed maternities.

In all the health centres we visited we met midwives who were enthusiastic but definitely overworked, and health facilities that were clean and organized but under-resourced.

As in all the target countries, project activities will take place both at the association office and in the implementation region. In Benin, the association office is located in Porto Novo, the lively capital of Benin. The project implementation region, which is called PAK for short, is just a couple of hours (by paved road) from the capital. Depending on what types of activities they will be carrying out, Canadian midwives will either work predominantly in Porto Novo (association strengthening activities) or they may be working in the PAK region (training of in-service midwives).

[1] http://data.unicef.org/topic/maternal-health/maternal-mortality/

C: Not long! The implementation phase of the project has just begun. I am currently working with our partner associations, including ASFB in Benin, to develop the 2017 volunteer and consultant placements for CAM members. Several these will be published in December and in the coming months, so interested midwives should keep a close eye on their inboxes for emails from CAM as well as the CAM Global website opportunities page.  Across the next 3.5 years, we will be looking to recruit around 13 volunteers and a minimum of 20 consultants – all Canadian midwives. Placements will run from 3-6 weeks and will cover a range of skills and capacities, including emergency skills and respectful maternity care training, curriculum and regulation reviews, capacity building for midwifery association staff and much much more. I am happy to answer any questions regarding the placements or the skills we are looking for and members can get in touch with me directly at chrobert@canadianmidwives.org 

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