— As the effects of the El Niño drought in Ethiopia continues, an estimated 404,000 pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are at particular risk of malnutrition and complications during pregnancy due to the devastating food shortages this year.
As a longstanding midwife and lactation consultant, I’ve accumulated several skills. Some learnt through experience, some through research, and some from my trusted colleagues. Do I have the skills to help the women and children of Ethiopia?
“Without proper nutrition, pregnant women will give birth to malnourished infants. Children deprived of good nutrition during the first thousand days of life often have stunted growth, poor cognitive development and low immunity to disease. It is a very vicious cycle.”
Well, there is only one way to find out …….And so I found myself in Ethiopia, initially on a fact finding mission. How can my skills be put to best use?
First things first – what is the percentage of women who breastfeed in Ethiopia –
According to UNICEF
‘Only half of all infants are exclusively breastfed, with complementary foods being introduced at the appropriate time (6 months old)’ UNICEF 2014
Other political issues to consider ….
Hunger and undernutrition remain critical issues; the poor nutritional status of women and children has been a consistent problem in Ethiopia. Undernutrition is an underlying cause of 53 percent of infant and child mortality.
So to summarise, suboptimal infant feeding practises, from poorly nourished women who are further compromised by the El-Nino draught.
Whilst in Addis Ababa I saw no obvious evidence of this, but further north in Tigray I was troubled by the prospect – vast landscapes with little vegetation, and literally miles and miles between one village to another, and even more miles and miles to the nearest hospital.
But the outlook isn’t all bleak. I found pockets of positivity for local women in Addis Ababa.
For example, behind 10ft tall wrought iron gates just off the busy Addis Ababa main road, I found an enterprise started by a local mother; a silk mill. She distributes hundreds of caterpillars to local women, and asks them to rear them for their silk. They return with the silk and are paid for their harvest. It is then washed, spun, died and woven in this mill into beautiful fabrics which are then sold.
Aswell as this, I saw the breathtakingly beautiful landscape And so, can I help? I can try. I will return in April……
Barbara Smith, Midwife and Lactation Consultant