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Malawian president to reinstate traditional birthing assistants

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Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika has signalled an end to the ban on traditional birth assistants (TBAs) in place since 2007, after returning from a recent UN Summit on Millennium Development Goals in New York.

The ban was introduced because it was thought that low-skilled TBAs were unable to identify obstetric emergency cases early enough. Delays caused by poor transport infrastructure and the paucity of medical facilities contributed to the high incidence of maternal deaths.

The lifting of the ban still requires Ministry of Health approval, the issuing of guidelines, and consultation with stakeholders, but according to health practitioners, the president’s pronouncement “will now allow them [TBAs] to come back and operate openly.”

Mutharika said: “We need to train traditional birth attendants in safer delivery methods. We should not completely stop them because their work is very important. We should train them to assist us in addressing the health challenges that we are facing.”

A 2004 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey said the maternal and infant mortality rate was 984 per 100,000 live births, translating into 6,000 maternal deaths each year. The current estimate, collated from inter-agency projections, was 510 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

It was hoped that by preventing TBAs from practising, mothers would utilize the country’s medical facilities, but nearly half of all deliveries still occur outside medical facilities.

Read the full story on IRIN.

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