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Mixed reactions as ban on traditional birth attendants in Malawi lifted

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Malawi mumSummary of story from IPS 15.3.11

A ban imposed on traditional birth attendants by Malawi’s Ministry of Health has been lifted, a move that has been met with mixed reactions.

“Traditional birth attendants should not be stopped from practicing.  Instead they should be trained in safer methods of delivery” Malawi president Bingu wa Mutharika said, on the withdrawal of the ban.

The ban was imposed in 2007 because the country had a high maternal mortality rate, which was partially attributed to the traditional birth attendants’ lack of skills.

However one of the benefits of traditional birth attendants (TBAs)  now being allowed to practice is that they can help women who do not live near hospitals.

TBA Dorothy Chirwa said she knew a number of women who have given birth on their way to hospital.

Chirwa admitted that the service she and other traditional attendants provide in communities across the country was not perfect and that there were some complications which she could not handle.

The Gynaecologists Association said they were puzzled that Malawi was going back to a policy of allowing TBAs to deliver babies.

“How will TBAs help in cases of pregnancy complications in the absence of a medical facility?” asked Association president Dr Frank Taulo.

In 2007 Malawi’s maternal mortality rate was 807 women per 100,000 live births.

Figures released at the UN  Millennium Development Goal Review in 2010, say  it had fallen to 510 women per 100,000.

But behind these improved figures, a badly-stretched public health system meant that many women continued to turn to TBAs during the ban.

And according to Dorothy Ngoma, executive director of the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi traditional birth attendants went underground for fear of being fined – and deaths and births were not recorded.

The National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi insists that the long-term solution must be to increase the number of trained midwives.

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