Mozambique Tries To Address Doctor Shortage

Originally published on June 27, 2011 1:58 pm
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Later today, NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED launches a series of stories that will run through the summer about pregnancy and child birth. The reports will examine racial disparities in maternal and newborn health, the rapid growth of in vitro fertilization in China, postpartum depression and much more. The series is called Beginnings, and it begins with a visit to sub-Saharan Africa to the country of Mozambique. That's where ALL THINGS CONSIDERED host Melissa Block went to cover three stories about women and childbirth. And she joined me to talk about her reports.

Good morning.

MELISSA BLOCK: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And the first story, I gather, and this story runs later today. It Looks at how Mozambique is trying to address a serious shortage of health care workers?

BLOCK: That's right. Mozambique has some of the world's worst outcomes, if you look at maternal and infant mortality. It's also a country with very, very few doctors, and they're trying to address that in a number of ways. And here's one of them.

We went to a training session for about 20 traditional healers who had gathered in a rural village called Guija.

(Soundbite of singing villagers)

BLOCK: And it was a session that was woven around a lot of singing and dancing, Renee. The traditional healers might be, for a lot of people, the only healthcare providers they have if they live in remote rural communities far from hospitals.

And here's how Damaio Mungoi, with the nonprofit group Save The Children, explains their role.

Mr. DAMAIO MUNGOI (Save The Children): They are kind of hospitals within communities. They are the main people to treat whatever diseases within the community. But what happen is that there are several other disease that the traditional healer cannot, cannot treat.

BLOCK: So, Renee, the group, Save The Children organized this training session to encourage the traditional healers to recognize what they just can't treat with traditional means; roots, and leaves - and instead, steer more patients to hospitals.

MONTAGNE: Although, for these very poor people in rural areas, that's probably a bit of a hurdle.

BLOCK: A huge hurdle. And one area where this is a real problem is women who are about to give birth. And they are trying to encourage traditional healers to get women to deliver babies in health centers, not at home.

(Soundbite of a conversation)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: And here, Renee, a health worker is reminding the traditional healers: Look, send women in labor to the hospital.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: And there you heard that word Sida, that means AIDS, which is as you know a huge problem and sub-Saharan Africa. In this province, in Mozambique, Renee, 30 percent of the women of childbearing age are HIV-positive. And another of our stories is going to look at programs that are trying to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child.

MONTAGNE: And those stories begin, of course, today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Melissa, tell me your overall impressions from your time there in Mozambique?

BLOCK: Well, sobering for sure. I mean maternal and infant mortality rates are so high and the country is so poor, but there are glimmers of hope in the ways that they're trying to turn those numbers around. For example, we're doing a story on a drug that I know you've reported on in Afghanistan, called Misoprostol, which has proved very effective in preventing postpartum hemorrhage - the leading cause of maternal death in Mozambique.

It's also controversial though because it can be used for medical abortion.

Here's another daunting thing though, that many girls in Mozambique get pregnant so young - as young as 10 years old. And so the Ministry of Health is trying to hold support groups and give out free contraceptives. And I went to a group for about a dozen young women in the capital, Maputo.

(Soundbite of conversation and laughter)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BLOCK: So, Renee, these are all girls who recently had abortions. They were there at the hospital to learn about contraception, probably for the first time. It became really clear listening to them that there is a lot they didn't know. And many of the girls talked about wanting to stay in school. In fact, one 18-year-old girl there mentioned that her dream is to become a doctor in Mozambique.

MONTAGNE: Looking forward to it, Melissa. Thanks very much.

BLOCK: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Melissa Block of course is host of NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. The series on Women and Childbirth begins this afternoon.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.