Improving the use of maternal, neonatal and child health services in rural and pastoralist Ethiopia

This guest post is written by Dr Ruth Jackson of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute. Dr Jackson is working on a project focused on improving the use of maternal, neonatal and child health services in rural and pastoralist Ethiopia. The project is funded by the Australian Development Research Awards Scheme. Dr Jackson has been learning from the experiences of Women’s Extension Workers who work with the Afar Pastoralist Development Association, a partner in The Road Less Travelled project.

“You won’t believe us – we start walking in the morning up til night time to collect water. Then we grind the wheat, collect sticks for firewood and take water to the animals. Sometimes if we have to sleep where we collect water, we take our baby with us, otherwise we leave the baby in the house.”

– Women’s Extension Worker, Logya, Afar Region, Ethiopia, 25 March 2014

We are sitting in the shade at the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) training facility with 19 Women’s Extension Workers. The women, many with young children and babies, are attending their annual refresher training. It’s too hot to sit inside the training centre but relatively cool in the shade of the building.

Along the fence line are the rooms in which the women stay for the month. Although they are square and joined together they are built of the same materials as the Afar huts or aris. Aris are normally hemispherical and made of palm ribs covered with matting. They are light and portable and easily dismantled – a job usually done by women.

While the Women’s Extension Workers are away from home attending training their husband or mother has to collect water. Men don’t like collecting water as it’s “women’s work”. But one Women’s Extension Worker explained that they had to help their husbands understand that “helping each other is good. Some men joke about doing it while others don’t like doing it … in the past, some men even refused to allow their wives to come to training.”

Fatuma is a Women’s Extension Worker Coordinator for the Afar Pastoralist Development Association, with a total of 12 WEWs in her team. Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Fatuma is a Women’s Extension Worker (WEW) for the Afar Pastoralist Development Association, and coordinates a team of 12 WEWs in her area.
Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Afar Region in north-eastern Ethiopia is dominated by the Danakil depression in the north, which is largely desert scrubland with shallow salty lakes and long chains of volcanoes. In the south, the Awash River flows into the northern lakes rather than to the sea. Much of Afar is below sea level and it is one of the hottest places on earth, with temperatures higher than 50°C in the summer. About 90 per cent of the regional population base their livelihood on livestock rearing – cattle, camels, goats, sheep and donkeys – with limited agriculture along the river basins and low-lying riverine areas.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Health acknowledged in Health Sector Development Program IV (2010/11-2014/15) that there was a lack of appropriate health service delivery packages to address nomadic and semi-nomadic communities in Afar Region.

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Celebrate Mother’s Day with us!

Motherhood Matters exhibition poster

In Melbourne and wondering what to do with mum on Mother’s Day?

Join us at Fed Square this Sunday 11 May for a high-energy African drum and dance performance with Asanti Dance Theatre at 12pm and 2pm!

Then head inside to The Atrium to explore Motherhood Matters – a free photo exhibition that gives insight into the experience of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa. It runs until 13 May and is open day and night.

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Photo exhibition: Motherhood Matters

Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Image: Kate Holt / Anglican Overseas Aid

Take a journey along the road to safe motherhood in sub-Saharan Africa with ‘Motherhood Matters’, a stunning exhibition of photographs on display at Federation Square in Melbourne in the lead-up to Mother’s Day in May.

Where: The Atrium at Fed Square
When: 5 – 13 May, 24 hours
Price: Free

Download the exhibition poster and help us spread the word

Gain an insight into the experience of mothers in rural African communities, learn about some of the challenges they face and find out about the vital work being done to improve maternal health in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

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Australia-Africa partnership delivers life-saving results

Anglican Overseas Aid is honored to work in partnership with the Australian Government and nine other Australian non-government organisations to deliver a program in Africa that is saving lives and helping communities take control of their futures.

The latest annual report has been released for the Australia Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES), now in its second year. Through this scheme, Anglican Overseas Aid delivers The Road Less Travelled project with partners the Afar Pastoralist Development Association in Ethiopia, the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Nossal Institute for Global Health and Australian Volunteers International.

The AACES Annual Report 2012-2013 is now available on the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website. It highlights the impressive achievements of the 10 Australian NGOs and their African partners in the program’s second year.

To read the summary or download the report, visit:

Or read the news feature on the DFAT website here.

AACES Annual Report 2012-2013

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Top tweeting for maternal health

This week, The Road Less Travelled project (@ARLTAfrica) was honoured to be featured on The Huffington Post blog, in a list of 25 Leading Tweeters on Maternal Health.

The author, Jennifer James, is the Founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good, a global coalition of over 2,000 mothers who care about the world’s most pressing issues.

The organisations and individuals that made Jennifer’s top 25 are united by their efforts in “sharing information that is focused on keeping more mothers alive during and after childbirth.”

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Identifying a model for improved maternal and newborn care in pastoralist communities

This post was written by Natalie Stephens and Dr Michelle Kermode of the Nossal Institute for Global Health – Anglican Overseas Aid’s partner in The Road Less Travelled project.

A woman in Kenya is hundreds of times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than a woman in Australia. The level of risk for women and their babies during pregnancy and childbirth is the largest health gap between rich and poor countries.

Fifteen percent of all pregnancies and births have life-threatening complications and, while most cannot be predicted, the majority of complications can be managed safely by skilled birth attendants such as doctors and nurses.

Pastoralist mothers wait for check-ups outside a health clinic in Samburu County, Kenya. Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Pastoralist mothers wait for check-ups outside a health clinic in Samburu County, Kenya.
Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

There is strong evidence to show that access to skilled care during pregnancy, birth and the first month after delivery, is key to saving the lives of mothers and their babies. Yet, in 2013 more than half of all women giving birth in developing countries do so alone or attended by people such as traditional birth attendants or family carers, inadequately trained or resourced to respond in the event of birth complications. As a result, maternal mortality rates are unacceptably high and women are dying unnecessarily as a result of preventable causes.

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Delivering a better start in life

Sunday 5th May marked the International Day of the Midwife, an opportunity to recognise and reflect on the crucial role midwives and birth attendants play in supporting mothers through pregnancy and making childbirth safer.

With Mothers’ Day coming up this Sunday 12th May, there is no better time to pay tribute to all the amazing, dedicated people who work tirelessly to improve maternal health for all women, all over the world.

Honor a midwife or a mother: send a free e-card today.

Most maternal deaths (99%) occur in developing countries, and more than half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, according to World Health Organization statistics.

Working in this region, we are all too familiar with the disparities that exist in terms of access to basic health services. The nomadic pastoralist communities who live in sparsely-populated areas of Ethiopia and Kenya are among those often excluded – they are marginalised as a result of their remote location and way of life.

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Reflections on the progress of a partnership

Last month saw the release of the inaugural Annual Report for AusAID’s Australia Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES). The Road Less Travelled is being delivered by Anglican Overseas Aid (AOA) as part of this program.

The report is available on AusAID’s website and it highlights the progress made by all the partners in the first year of the program. Our Africa Program Advisor, Phillip Walker, is Chair of the AACES Program Steering Committee. He explains the partnership on the Engage blog, saying:

“AACES is unlike typical grant/donor relationships; it is a partnership agreement between AusAID, 10 Australian NGOs and their African partners. All parties value and support one another to get the best development outcomes in the African countries where we work.

“[It] recognises Australian NGOs’ positive record of working in Africa for some fifty years. Australian NGOs provide unique skills, have a strong base within the communities they work with and are there for the long haul.”

Naatena Lenayora, a mother from the pastoralist community of Samburu, Kenya, where The Road Less Travelled is supporting community-led initiatives to improve the health of women and children. Image: Jay Maheswaran

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Celebrate Mums & Midwives with us

Join us in celebrating mothers and midwives at The Road Less Travelled photographic exhibition, which showcases a stunning collection of images taken throughout sub-Saharan Africa as part of Anglican Overseas Aid’s project.

In the lead-up to International Day of the Midwife (5 May) and Mothers’ Day (12 May) in Australia, we’re inviting you on a journey into the lives of the women and children of nomadic pastoralist communities in Kenya and Ethiopia.

A photograph of a traditional birth attendant in Kenya, which features in The Road Less Travelled photographic exhibition.
Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

At The Road Less Travelled project, we believe all mothers matter. We envisage a world where all mothers have access to safe, respectful health care. And in turn, so do their children. In the marginalised communities we work with, this is not always the case. Cost, distance and attitudes often prevent these women and children from accessing the quality care they deserve.

The exhibition features images by Matthew Willman, Christof Krackhardt and Maria Ölund, captured during visits to partner organisations the Mothers’ Union in Kenya, and the Afar Pastoralist Development Association in Ethiopia.

Through the photographs, viewers will be exposed to the project and the people of the Afar, Maasai and Samburu pastoralist communities. You will have the opportunity to learn about the challenges they face on a daily basis, and gain insight into the holistic, strength-based approach this project is taking to improve maternal and child health.

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Go Bare on September 14

Go Bare on September 14 and help raise awareness for the millions of women and girls in Africa who are going without the basics.

For those born into a life of extreme poverty, basic essentials such as health care and education are too often out of reach. Many women in developing communities lack the rights to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.

Go Bare is an initiative of CARE Australia and Marie Stopes International Australia, supported by AusAID.  It recognises the importance of basic choice and highlights the work being done to reduce poverty as part of the Australia Africa Community Engagement Scheme.

This Friday, we encourage you to join the movement: pare back on the excess, spend your day makeup free, or leave your jewellery at home. Put aside those everyday luxuries you can live without. Invite your friends, family and colleagues to do the same, by letting them know why it’s important to you.

By getting back to the basics, you’ll be helping to shine a spotlight on the access inequalities that are a daily reality for women and girls in Africa.

What bare essentials will you go without?

To get involved, please visit