20 June 2017

Keeping hope alive

By Nana Kuo

Today is World Refugee Day. When I think of refugees, I always imagine the many women and girls giving birth in camps and other fragile settings around the world. What a symbol of hope when babies can be safely delivered even in the most difficult of conditions. Most times, it’s thanks to the tireless efforts of midwives that this possible.


Women and children on the move now outnumber adult men. And although female migration is not a new phenomenon, it is increasing. Pregnant and nursing women and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable in displacement, famines and crises situations. Midwives can provide them with the care they need to not only survive, but thrive and go on to fulfill their full potential.


And they deliver more than babies. From registering women and children—and ensuring they are safe, informed and cared for—to providing birth control and breastfeeding counseling, midwives make healthcare available in the most remote and vulnerable corners of the world.


When I met “Mama” Munira Shaban a few years ago, she was working in Za’atari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. I learned from her example that midwives are really the unsung heroes bringing health and dignity to displaced women and children.


In the midst of the chaos, in the windswept desert plain where millions had lost their homes, Mama Munira was one of those extraordinary women who remained focused on her work, changing lives for the better. She came out of retirement in her late sixties to work at Za’atari.


For all her warmth and knowledge, Mama Munira’s strength was tested throughout her life. When she was only 15, she had to fight her family to be able to study to become a nurse. She prevailed and never stopped. After becoming a nurse, she learned to deliver babies, and studied family planning at a time when that too was controversial.


Mama Munira found solace in helping women and children stay healthy in the refugee camp. Giving birth should always be a moment of joy, of hope for the future. And she was keeping that hope alive.


Displaced women and children—particularly girls—should have access to education, water, sanitation, hygiene and adequate health care, including maternal care. They should be protected from violence, abuse and exploitation. They should be able to make informed life choices, including those related to their sexual and reproductive health.


This is part of the vision set out by the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Healtha world in which every woman, child and adolescent in every setting can survive and thrive to help transform their societies.


Midwives have a tangible contribution to make in the effort to make this vision a reality for all. Yet, they face enormous challenges. They are seldom recognized and rarely have access to the resources they need or training to provide the best care. We need targeted investments and strategic partnerships to improve the situation.


Investment in healthy women, children and adolescents, improving access to basic rights—such as education, water, sanitation, hygiene, security and quality of care in all settings—is the bedrock of economic and social development, leading to rapid progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the targets of the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy.


By providing children with a healthy and fair start to life, we provide the building blocks for them to grow strong and thrive to help transform the world. Mama Munira is a good example of how access to a quality education can give individuals the tools and, in turn, opportunities to not only achieve success, but to also pay it forward towards others.


On this World Refugee Day, I want to praise Mama Munira and all midwives around the world keeping alive the hope for a healthier, more peaceful and prosperous future for all no matter where they live, their place of origin or their beliefs.


Here is to all midwives!