With support from Sweden, midwives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo work to reverse maternal and child mortality rates

13 Oct 2022

Midwives at the Institute. © UNFPA DRC

KALIMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — “I gave birth to four children. But two of them didn’t survive,” says Marguerite Sifa, 35, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After delivering her fourth child, a son who did not survive, she developed obstetric fistula – one of the most serious and tragic injuries a woman can sustain during childbirth, and yet one that is almost entirely preventable. “Everyone moved away from me,” she recalled, explaining that the condition left her with urinary incontinence.

Ms. Sifa didn’t know a treatment for fistula existed until one day in 2020, when she heard that the general hospital of Kundu in the Maniema province was offering one. She was able to receive adequate treatment and care from a team of health-care providers at the hospital, who had been trained by UNFPA thanks to financial support from the Government of Sweden.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is in a fragile phase of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding, and the maternal mortality rate remains high with 473 deaths per 100,000 live births. The number of fistula cases is also very high which is taken as a sign of a fragile health and social system unable to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable women. UNFPA works to improve access to quality reproductive health-care services in the country, and helped provide almost 700 fistula repair surgeries in 2021.

Thanks to the UNFPA-trained health-care providers at the Kindu hospital,  Ms. Sifa was the first woman to receive medical treatment for obstetric fistula in the province of Maniema. 

Once she was healed, she decided she wanted to help other women to get treatment too. 

Ms. Sifa decided to enrol for midwifery classes at the Institut Supérieur des Techniques Médicales in Kalima, also in Maniema Province. Between 2014 and 2018, more than 80 women died during childbirth, a shocking rate that spurred the number of midwives allocated for training programmes to be increased in 2018. With the support of the Government of Sweden, the institute's building was rehabilitated in 2022 to accommodate the higher number of students. 

“Sweden is a committed partner of UNFPA's work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to improve maternal health, legal frameworks and sexual and reproductive health,” said Mr. Joachim Bejimo, Head of Development Cooperation at the Swedish Embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the reopening ceremony.  Mr. Bejimo underscored the importance of gender equality, which is at the core of the Swedish Development Cooperation’s strategy in the country. “The goal is to improve access to and respect for sexual and reproductive health and rights,” he added. 

With Sweden’s support over the years, UNFPA has been able to increase access to quality care for women and girls in the Maniema province and in the country as a whole. Last year, Sweden was among UNFPA’s top donors to core funding, helping women like Ms. Sifa to receive quality fistula care and in turn supporting her to provide skilled health services for women and girls.

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