Empowering Midwives, Saving Lives: Transforming Maternal and Newborn Care through Education and Leadership

Our partner in the DRC, ISSI, working to improve maternal and newborn health by empowering midwives

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for childbirth and newborns. UNICEF notes that 6% of children die before their first birthday and the likelihood of a mother dying during pregnancy, or as a consequence of childbirth is 547/100,000; for comparison, the average rate in high income countries is 12/100,000. 

In a country with such a high mortality rate, and a poor health care system which, due to the scarcity of doctors largely depends on nurses, most of whom are poorly trained, our local partner in the DRC, ISSIInstitut Supérieur en Sciences Infirmières a leading institution for training nurses, and now midwives, in Kinshasa, DRC’s capitalplays a highly important role. 

We dive deeper into this in our Need for Nurses in Congo report, which can be found here. 

Enhancing Maternal Health in DRC: Training Midwives to International Standards at ISSI

We’ve proudly launched a report that builds on the Need for Nurses in Congo and explores the work ISSI is doing to build the country’s long-term capacity to improve health outcomes for women and their babies through training women, insufficiently trained as midwives but working in maternal and newborn health, as leaders and educators, to become trained technical and clinical educators of future cohorts of learners. 

Midwifery is a low-status profession in DRC, unclearly defined and often looked down upon by doctors and nurses. Well-trained nurses are scarce but well-trained midwives are even harder to find – ISSI is one of the institutions that offer Government-accredited midwifery training. 

Students at ISSI receive training aimed at improving the overall healthcare services at a national level, with modern teaching methods and an individual support system for students through a mentoring programme. 

Empowering Midwives: Reflecting on Acquired Knowledge and Skills

Victorine, Binza Maternity Hospital Head of Department reflected: I have cultivated various skills, including a compassionate approach. With these abilities, I’ve come to prioritise the patient – the woman – by involving her, her spouse, and her family in the various stages of care processes. My education has revolutionised my approach to women’s healthcare. I now actively engage them during childbirth, empowering their participation in the care they receive. For instance, if circumstances permit, I’ve incorporated a family member of her choice into the delivery process. This has significantly heightened the satisfaction of women with their maternal healthcare experience. I’m exceptionally proud that I can now conduct newborn exams seamlessly and confidently. My team at Binza have witnessed the impact of my newfound knowledge. Whenever we acquire new information in the course, I have made sure to share it with them and to explore its implementation in our hospital”. 

For years ISSI had dreamt of training midwives, seeing the need for better training, and especially the training of trainers, to improve health outcomes for women and babies. In 2021 this dream became a reality, thanks to support from funders and from long-standing supporter, Nurse-Midwife Professor Marie Hatem PhD from the School of Public Health-Université de Montréal, who worked with ISSI staff, following extensive consultation, to design a curriculum so that qualified nurses could become certified as midwives at the international standard.

13 of the 14 midwives who started the course have completed their training and now have the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree in midwifery recognised by the DRC Ministry of Higher Education.

To learn more about what WONDER and ISSI are doing to improve maternal and newborn health in DRC, read the report here:

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