AMURT (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team) first started working in the remote desert region of Deou in 1986, in cooperation with the Burkina Faso Department of Health. The desert communities had no roads, electricity or telephone communications, no commercial economy, scarce access to safe water, and 90 percent illiteracy in the outlying areas. The first project was the construction of a hospital, and over the years AMURT has expanded its projects in the area with well construction, literacy drives, vegetable gardens, cereal banks, road construction, reforestation, cooperatives and other projects.
In recent years the focus has been exclusively on extending health care training throughout the region, especially in the remote villages, which have always lied beyond the reach of the national health infrastructure. AMURT is working in partnership with the Department of Health and the Deou Medical Center to train local men as village health promoters (ASV, or Agents de Sante Villageoise in French) and women as village midwives (AV, for Accoucheuse Villageoise).
Deou Safe Motherhood and Midwifery Program
According to the UN, 530,000 women die in childbirth each year, more than half of these in Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in the remote villages. In the Deou project area, two tribes – the Peuhl (Fulani) and the Bella – have no tradition of assisted childbirth. Rather, it is said that if a woman is a strong woman, she should be able to give birth alone. This often has dire consequences for the mothers as they are unprepared to face any complications that may arise. Often they are unable to expel the afterbirth completely, resulting in illness and sometimes death. The necessity of prenatal counseling and assisted deliveries is slowly gaining acceptance amongst the tribal women, but there is still a long way to go.
In 2002, upon the request of the provincial health director, AMURT launched the Safe Motherhood Program. The area has among the highest maternal mortality rates on the planet. The program consists of training village midwives chosen by the women in each of the tribal villages, and we now have active village midwives in 30 communities. Each of the women receive the equipment, supplies, and literacy training they need, and twice a year they go through a refresher course with additional training. Every month each village midwife is visited by a representative from the health department and AMURT for regular support and inspection. In 2006 we started SMI (Sante Maternelle Infantil), which brings health department personnel to each village to do check-ups for pregnant and nursing mothers and infants. At each SMI visit, an educational topic for the village is covered, such as AIDS, family planning, nutrition etc.
The AVs are fast earning the respect of their communities. They are assuming a position of leadership that has been unavailable to women due to the traditional separation of the sexes. The AVs effectively fulfill the role of health promoter to mothers and babies. Their training has effectively brought them to the frontline of awareness-raising in this conservative society – awareness of concerns crucial to the welfare of women, including family planning, which is still not widely practiced in the area.
With the help of AMURT, and in coordination with the Deou departmental AIDS awareness committee, the AVs initiated a multi-media AIDS awareness campaign, educating women about the threat of HIV/AIDS (brought to the area by men who travel to find work in the dry season) so they know how to protect themselves.
The AVs are also now using their position to combat FGM – female genital mutilation. FGM is officially banned in Burkina Faso, but up in the remote villages in the north, nearly all of the Moussi and Peuhl girls currently have their genitals cut around the age of 12 or 13.
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