When Mary Issaka, Jhpiego’s 2010 International Midwife Champion of the Year, returned home to Ghana from last year’s award ceremony in Washington, D.C., she used her newfound fame to inspire midwives across her country.
On the day she met with students at the midwifery school in her village of Zorko, Issaka proudly displayed her award and said, “Whatever you are doing in your corner, if you do it well, people will see. You can even work in the remotest area and people will see that you are doing your best.”
Working in Zorko when she won the award and now stationed in Anafobisi, another village in the country’s Bolgatanga district, Issaka can speak with authority about practicing midwifery in remote areas. In Zorko, there was one pickup truck that served as an ambulance to bring patients to the hospital. Medical personnel have to call for the truck-ambulance to transfer a patient to a hospital, and demands on that one vehicle are many. In Anafobisi, villagers lack even that means of transport.
Issaka, a senior staff midwife, was nominated for the Jhpiego award by UNFPA for her work in Bolgatanga, where she has helped save hundreds of lives by greatly improving the percentage of women who deliver with trained birth attendants and waging a campaign to encourage pregnant women to undergo HIV/AIDS testing.
Issaka says that she used some of the $5,000 prize money to enhance that mission by funding “durbers,” community gatherings where women learn about the dangers of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and are encouraged to be tested and to seek treatment if necessary. She also purchased fetal stethoscopes, dilation boards—simple job aids that help a health provider determine the size of the cervix—and gestograms—similar tools that resemble a wheel and help calculate delivery date—and gave them to midwifery schools and midwives in each of the six sub-districts, one hospital and the midwifery school in her region.
Working as a midwife since 1997, Issaka has focused on improving maternal and child health in her community. She describes the past year as a whirlwind of opportunities—talking with influential policymakers in Uganda, meeting midwives from Ethiopia, traveling to Egypt to receive another award and managing a stream of radio and TV interview requests since last year’s presentation.
Her message to all listeners: “If you actually meet the people’s needs, you achieve.”
When asked what has been best about the past year, Issaka says, “I’ve been able to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths in Zorko.”
She takes pride in the fact that Zorko this past year ranked first in the region in the percentage of women who delivered in a health care facility. She says that 100 percent of deliveries in Anafobisi now take place in health care facilities.
The Midwife Champion of the Year Award honors the work of a midwife in low-resource settings who, through extraordinary efforts, trains midwives, educates communities, advocates for and implements evidence-based midwifery care, and saves lives through innovation.
“The award has changed my life… I’m more respected, some people say, ‘Keep it up, keep it up.’ That motivated me to work harder.”
Jhpiego’s 2011 International Midwife of the Year award will be presented in June at the International Confederation of Midwives meeting in Durban, South Africa.