by Vanessa N Glavinskas
Rotary International News
In Nigeria, one out of
every 18 women dies as a result of childbirth. The country has the
second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
That's why the Rotarian Action Group for Population Growth
and Sustainable Development targeted the northern Nigerian states of Kaduna
and Kano with a pilot program aimed at reducing maternal mortality by
preventing and treating obstetric fistula, a serious birth injury. From 2005 until
2010, the project, partly supported by a grant from The Rotary Foundation,
reduced maternal death by 60 percent in participating hospitals, reached 1
million women of childbearing age, and repaired obstetric fistulas for 1,500
"We have to empower
women, and women cannot be empowered if they can't make their own choices in
antenatal care and child spacing," says Dr. Robert Zinser, CEO of the Rotarian
Action Group for Population Growth and Sustainable Development and member of
the Rotary Club of Ludwigshafen-Rheinschanze, Germany.
Zinser has been to
Nigeria nearly 20 times to work on maternal and child health projects,
including the northern Nigeria pilot focused on the prevention and treatment of
fistulas. An obstetric fistula is a birth injury that can cause stillbirth and,
in the mother, chronic incontinence, infection, nerve damage, or death. The
primary cause is labor that goes on for too long, often for days. Because 70
percent of Nigerian women deliver at home, often without access to proper
medical care, long labors that would be prevented in the developed world are
According to the World
Health Organization, "prevention is the key," Zinser says. "We insisted on a
comprehensive approach of better antenatal care" that includes training,
equipment, quality, hygiene, and benchmarking.
The project also included
surgery to repair damage from fistula. Many women with the injury don't know it
can be repaired, so Rotarians created a series of radio programs that explained
the condition, its causes, and the available treatment.
"People listened, and
village women found out their fistulas could be repaired at the Rotary center.
We repaired 1,500 fistulas, 500 more than our goal," Zinser says.
The action group is now
preparing to replicate the project in the states of Abuja and Onoda, with plans
to eventually establish the model in other central and southern Nigeria states.
Zinser is adamant that
the project can be implemented in other areas with high maternal mortality. "We
must save the mothers so that the mothers can save the world," he says.
group has a team of medical experts available to help clubs propose and
implement projects in the area of maternal health. To learn more about this or
how to start a project like the Nigeria pilot, visit maternal-health.org.
contributions to The Rotary Foundation help support projects such as this.