Carrie Vogelsang, Peace Corps Response — “Saving Mothers, Giving Life” Lundazi, Zambia 10/4/2012

“My women are over there, let me show you.” Safe Motherhood Action Group (SMAG) member, Edson Zulu, smiles proudly as he walks us to where a group of pregnant women are sitting on the ground. The women are gathered outside Chikomeni Rural Health Center in the rural district of Lundazi, Zambia. Edson is part of one of the Safe Motherhood Action Group trained by Zambia Integrated Systems Strengthening Program (ZISSP) through funding from USAID as part of the “Saving Mothers, Giving Life” initiative.

Since being trained in March 2012, the 20 members of SMAG group Chikomeni have been actively working in their surrounding villages for 6 months. The training they've put into practice has made a significant impact on the number of pregnant women seeking care and also choosing to deliver at the facility.

On the day of the most recent SMAG monthly meeting, Edson spoke of five women he had referred to the program who were currently at the health center. One had just given birth to a healthy baby boy a few hours earlier. Three were waiting at the health center in preparation for delivering there. The fifth mother we found had just been discharged after delivering a baby girl the night before. He was beaming as he showed off the evidence of the community maternal health education he has been conducting in his area. We commended him on the difference he and other SMAG members were making in changing behaviors, especially reducing the number of home deliveries. Edson humbly responded, “We are working to save lives in our communities.” Edson and other SMAG members say they have seen an increase in the number of women coming to deliver and the women are coming early and more frequently for care before delivering.

Unfortunately there are still some women who wait to come to the health center and deliver on the way or choose to deliver from home. Traveling long distances on rough terrain to reach a health center is often a major deterrence. The SMAG members are working with the health center staff and community members to finish construction of a mothers’ shelter so that pregnant women will have a place to wait during their last weeks before delivery. Currently there is only a ward in the health center available to them when it is not occupied by other services.

The SMAG members have increased the demand for care, but they say there is still more work to be done. Young women and their families in this region need to hear the safe motherhood messages, and more SMAG members are needed to get the word out. Three more mothers have died in the last few months in the areas surrounding the nearby clinics. But not in Chikomeni. Because of the ongoing community work of Edson and the other SMAG members at Chikomeni, women's lives are being saved. That is one of the primary reasons that ZISSP, with continued funding by USAID, has decided to train more groups at health centers in the Lundazi District.

The SMAG members give personal attention to each pregnant woman, following her throughout her pregnancy and after her baby is born in order to ensure the safety of both mother and child. The message that comes through at the community education meetings they hold is that mothers are a priority for everyone and they shouldn't be dying. Villages are beginning to recognize that they need to change the behaviors that put pregnant mothers at risk. Thankfully SMAG members, like Edson, are there to guide them through that process and encourage them to move forward to a safer, healthier community for all.