The Fight to Save Nigeria’s Mothers

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Chinomnso Ibe is not a run-of-the-mill nurse.

 

While training to be a midwife in 2007, Chinomnso was troubled by the extremely high maternal and infant mortality rates in Nigeria. So she decided to do something about it and created the Traffina Foundation, a non-profit organization that distributes free delivery kits to help women give birth safely.

 

“We started out by going to community leaders to get them to lend their voices to help end harmful birthing practices, engaging them to save our mothers,” Chinomnso explains.

 

Along with the distribution of clean delivery kits, the Traffina Foundation sends important pregnancy-related information in five local dialects via phone calls and text messages to expectant mothers who are vulnerable to dangerous practices.

 

At 32 years old, Chinomnso has been able to combine her extensive experience on the ground with her world-class training. Through a project led by the Patient Centricity Unit at Sanofi, she trained with the US government and Wagner College in New York City. In 2015, she was featured by the Voice of America‘s daily ‘Africa 54’ TV news program.

We sat down with Chinomnso to take a closer look at her inspiring career.

 

In Nigeria – like in many other sub-Saharan African countries – a huge number of mothers and infants die during childbirth every year.

A full 75% of maternal deaths are due to direct birth-related causes, such as obstetric hemorrhage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, obstructed labor and complications resulting from abortion.

Chinomnso mentions she has witnessed the likes of broken bottles being used to cut umbilical cords. Additionally, cultural practices rooted in ancient myths and legends enhance the difficulties that pregnant women in rural communities experience in Nigeria.

 

The statistics confirm what Chinomnso has seen firsthand as a midwife. In 2007, there were on average 884 maternal deaths out of 100,000 live births and 90 infant deaths out of 1,000 live births according to the World Bank. In stark comparison, in 2007 there were anywhere from 2 to roughly 10 maternal and infant deaths for every 100,000 and 1,000 births respectively in developed countries.

 

Faced with this reality as a practicing nurse in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, Chinomnso went on to launch the Save Our Mothers initiative to reverse the trend of high maternal and infant mortality.

 

 

The strength of the nursing community

 

A major turning point for Chinomnso’s work came in 2012 when she discovered Connecting Nurses while reading a nursing newsletter. The international network is backed by Sanofi and supports the worldwide nursing community with resources.

Connecting Nurses launched the ‘Care Challenge‘ website to foster the exchange of ideas throughout the nursing community. It enables nurses to receive support to further develop their projects.

The Care Challenge project selection committee, which consists of nursing peers from around the world, chose the Save Our Mothers project as one such exemplary nursing initiative.

 

Chinomnso recounts how excited she was at the idea that there were opportunities in nursing for innovation and improving working conditions:

 

“This made people take my work seriously. It was a huge boost, suddenly making us visible in the nursing community. And it was how Millennia got interested in my work.”

 

Chinomnso’s project was spotted by the UNESCO-supported non-governmental organization Millennia2015 – now the Millennia2025 Foundation. As a key partner and supporter of Connecting Nurses, it works to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

 

Eventually, the Harvard School of Public Health heard about Save Our Mothers and provided Chinomnso with the opportunity to take part in the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) in 2013. Chinomnso also had the opportunity to participate in the US Department of State’s Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in 2015 in New York City.

 

Alongside these opportunities to gain expertise in the US, Chinomnso has selflessly used the Connecting Nurses platform to raise the visibility of all nurses in Nigeria and provide them with new opportunities.

 

“I have mentored a lot of rural nurses across the country,” she says. “And we use social media and forums to exchange ideas.”

 

This has been crucial to spreading information and advice throughout the nursing community.

 

 

The importance of training

 

Chinomnso’s participation in the Mandela Washington Fellowship took her work to another level.

 

“It was a great opportunity,” she says. “I realized what a huge gap there is between Africa and the West. I had the opportunity to meet African colleagues and partner with them.

 

“I met nurses from Liberia, such as Joyce Kilikpo Jarwolo, fighting Ebola, and other nurses from elsewhere in Africa, dealing with diseases like sickle-cell anemia,” she explains.

 

“On top of this, I also met a group of Guatemalan nurses, who ended up taking our delivery kits back to Guatemala to use,” Chinomnso continues.

 

 

An important lesson for Chinomnso has been the importance of training.

 

“I realized we have to update our current practices and train ourselves regularly,” she says.

 

She tells the story of how through her work in the Mandela Washington program she was put in touch with nurse Nmanwanyi Nwagbara-Ofili from Imperial College London, who eventually went to Nigeria to provide training for local nurses. Moreover, she donated digital monitors and other medical equipment to local communities.

 

 

Engaging the government

 

What about the future?

 

“We’re working hard to engage the government more,” Chinomnso says. “It knows about our work, but we don’t have a lot of access; it’s hard to break in. We have them come see the communities, which they need to empower.

 

“A lot of nurses are underpaid, so they end up leaving to the UK, the US or the UAE. We want the government to do its best to stop us losing our nurses to other countries.”

 

With nurses like Chinomnso Ibe, it seems that that challenge just might be within Nigeria’s grasp.

 


 

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Connecting Nurses has received 160 projects, all of which are inspiring stories of nurses committed to their patients. Thirty have been selected as innovative solutions for care.

 

Chimnoso is the ambassador of the Connecting Nurses new campaign in 2016 on nursing and patient empowerment.

 

Care Challenge 2016

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