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Ensuring women deliver safely despite dire humanitarian situation in Tigray, Ethiopia

MEKELLE, Tigray“They have saved my life and that of my daughter. I stayed under their care the whole night and delivered my baby girl safely,” says Selam, the first mother to deliver her baby at the camp for internally displaced persons at Sabacare 4 in Mekelle, Tigray. 

After living for months in a school classroom with 38 other households, Selam was relocated to the Sabacare 4 camp with her husband and daughter. The camp was set up at the outskirts of Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, which has been the epicentre of the conflict in northern Ethiopia since November 2020.

My labour started in the middle of the night. I was so afraid to lose my child.


Selam with her daughter Maedot after giving birth safely. © UNFPA Ethiopia

Childbirth can have a terrible ending, particularly for young women dealing with the added weight of displacement, malnutrition and limited access to sexual and reproductive health services. 

“My labour started in the middle of the night. I was scared. We came to the Maternity Waiting Home and they tried to refer me to a hospital but there was no ambulance or any other vehicle. I was so afraid to lose my child,” says Selam.

“If they weren’t here that night, I would not be here today. I have named my daughter ‘Maedot’ to honour them for saving our lives,” she adds. 

Enormous challenges

The reality on the ground caused by the conflict in northern Ethiopia is stark for pregnant women like Selam. Nearly 118,000 women are estimated to be pregnant and at increased risk of maternal mortality and morbidity due to limited or no access to maternal health care in the region. 

Amid severe challenges, Maedot, a community-based health care organization, set up a Maternity Waiting Home with the support of UNFPA to provide much-needed life-saving maternal health services at Sabacare 4 camp. 

UNFPA kits and medical equipment including the solar panel for electricity have been very helpful to provide emergency care day and night.

“UNFPA kits and medical equipment including the solar panel for electricity have been very helpful to provide emergency care day and night,” says Rahwa Gedamu, a nurse at Sabacare 4's clinic.  

As the conflict reaches the one-year landmark, midwife-based interventions are critical in a situation where more than half of the facilities are not functional and 60 per cent of pregnant and lactating mothers are suffering from malnutrition.

“We receive between 10 to 15 cases on a daily basis, of which at least two are critical. The situation is grave,” says Doctor Fiseha Gebreegziabher Maedot. 

Delivering hope and saving lives 

“I used to work at a hospital in Mai Kadra before I fled to Mekelle. Since then, I have been giving voluntary health services day and night for almost a year to save the lives of women,” says Ms. Gedamu. 

Every time we save a life, like [that of] Selam and her daughter, we feel very proud and motivated to continue serving our people.

In Tigray alone, UNFPA has provided more than 590 sexual and reproductive health kits and medical equipment at 25 health facilities. Skilled birth attendants and health extension workers have also been deployed to ensure provision of maternal and sexual and reproductive health services. Partnering with Maedot, UNFPA recently set up the Maternity Waiting Home and provided SRH kits and other medical equipment. Expansion of service provision through an additional maternity waiting home in Adigrat is being explored. 

Despite the dire situation, the staff at Maedot say their work is very fulfilling: “Every time we save a life, like [that of] Selam and her daughter, we feel very proud and motivated to continue serving our people,” says Ms. Gedamu.