Teaching Birth Attendants to Save Newborn Lives: No PowerPoint Needed

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman}Photo credit: Warren Zelman

In Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), childbearing is too often fatal for mothers as well as their newborns. The USAID-funded Integrated Health Project (IHP) is improving the odds for mothers and newborns by training health care providers with a package of low-cost, high-impact services, throughout 78 health zones in four provinces.

One such training made a particular impression on head trainer, Lucie Zikudieka, senior technical advisor. In May 2014, Zikudieka and colleagues arrived in Kabongo health zone, having spent months compiling, validating, and printing curriculum and training materials.

Expecting 32 nurses, the trainers watched with mounting anxiety as 32 women who had never attended school -- let alone nursing training -- entered the room. Local staff had invited local birth attendants, critical frontline health workers.

“The women were illiterate,” recalls Zikudieka, "... all the written materials went out the window,” futile for this audience. Zikudieka continues:

[Mama Christine practices newborn health care on a training doll.] {Photo credit: MSH staff}Mama Christine practices newborn health care on a training doll.Photo credit: MSH staffSo we regrouped and decided to show the videos. But that became a problem too -- some had never seen a projected image. They insisted we were using sorcery.

At that point we took out the inflatable baby dolls and demonstrated how to resuscitate a newborn who isn’t breathing, and had them practice.

Then we showed them Kangaroo Care for premature and other low-birthweight babies — it uses a parent’s body warmth instead of an incubator. After that we sent them home.

But Mama Christine, about 60, refused to leave. She told Zikudieka:

Madam, I have a bicycle. Sometimes the tire runs out of air. So I take my pump and re-inflate it, then I go on my way. I deliver babies; sometimes a baby’s lungs run out of air.

Now that I know how to re-inflate lungs like a tire, I know I could have saved many babies over the years. Since I know such things exist -- how can you tell me to go home and not teach me more?

The trainers were so taken by Mama Christine’s thirst for knowledge that they retooled part of the curriculum on birth complications and continued the training for another two days.

After that, facility nurses took the training and reaped the benefits of the full course, says Zikudieka.

To learn more about the trainings, watch:

Led by Management Sciences for Health with partners the International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, Ltd., IHP is working to improve the basic health conditions of the Congolese people in 78 health zones in four provinces.