Today's Maternal Care, Tomorrow's Human Capital

Feb 13 , 2021
By Eden Sahle ( Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at )

For the rich and well-off, the new fashion is to travel overseas with a tourist visa to have a child in a developed country. It even has a name — birth tourism — and countries such as the United States have attempted to limit its prevalence.

But it should be clear. They do not go through such headaches just for their children to have different citizenship but to have a safe birth. This is even though there have been improvements in maternal and newborn care, especially in private hospitals, in Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, these are unaffordable for large sections of the population. Personalised care can rise to 60,000 Br, making it unaffordable for expecting couples. This high price tag on quality medical care for childbirth has become a headache, especially for new parents.

Of course, couples can head to public hospitals, which offer far cheaper options though with a non-comparable degree and quality of care.

The heavily subsidised public hospitals charge a little over 100 Br for a caesarean section delivery, while natural delivery costs couples just 60 Br. The latter is the average price of a cup of coffee at one of the upscale cafes in Addis Abeba’s downtown. Such costs have encouraged mothers to give birth at public health facilities, reducing the risk of death to them and stillbirths due to complications during delivery.

Nevertheless, public health centres are often overcrowded, lack proper medical equipment and have a shortage of medical practitioners working with midwives and nurses. It is common to see queues of expecting mothers waiting for a midwife or nurse to attend to their medical needs.

Public hospitals and the primary, secondary and tertiary level healthcare structure systems are also under alarming pressure with the short supply of medical equipment. The nation has a dire shortage of gloves, oxygen concentrators, obstetrical forceps, assisted vacuum delivery, suction apparatuses, surgical sets and uninterrupted electric power supply vital for safe delivery.

There are stories of health professionals who lack basic equipment having to become creative, such as using their phones as torch lights when faced with inadequate lighting. In rural areas, lack of facilities means that women sometimes have to give birth on the floor, unattended while waiting for medical attention.

As a result of all of these complications, childbirth continues to be a problem that puts women's lives at risk. There is some good news. During the past two decades, mother and child mortality rates have been reduced by half. Still, about half a percent of women undergoing labour pass away, and child mortality stands at around a staggering five percent. This makes Ethiopia one of the countries with the lowest health outcomes in the entire world.

The opportunity to bring every pregnant woman and newborn good quality care throughout pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period is still unfulfilled, even in urban areas. Ethiopia’s National Health Care Quality Strategy, supported by international partners such as UN agencies, has set a mission to prioritise mothers’ and children’s health to lessen the tragedy of death that has affected many families.

This could not come early enough for the many couples whose hopes were frustrated. For many families, their desire to be parents was extinguished by a death that would have been avoided in a more prosperous country. I can attest to this. A friend's brother was recently widowed after his wife passed away during childbirth. The child did not survive as well.

All of these challenges should reaffirm the convictions of policymakers that public health policies have a great length to go when it comes to maternal and child care. Investing more on medical facilities, equipment, human resources and skill development will increase efficiency, reducing mortalities and allowing clinicians to deliver quality medical care equitably. Good governance is a critical part of making such a health system properly function and expand rapidly.

Improved health strategies do not come cheap, undoubtedly. But they are incredibly vital investments that create a tremendous return by ensuring that human capital needed for economic development is healthy and in abundance. For couples, it will save them from trauma and gives hope that the crux of what makes a society — a family — is viable.

The needs of mothers, infants and practitioners should continue to be a top priority for policymakers and the Ministry of Health to save lives. Such improved care enhances the wellbeing of individuals, families and the country at large.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 13,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1085]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

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