America's daily battle over health care is trivial compared to the struggles in low-income developing countries. Women’s health rights are at risk in these countries and can be foreign to some women in developing countries such as Haiti. That is until Midwives for Haiti, a non-profit organization that educates Haitian men and women with midwifery skills to accomplish successful births came into existence.
Nadine Brunk, a certified nurse-midwife, founded Midwives for Haiti in 2004. While working as a nurse at a private practice in Virginia she, along with a medical team, made a visit to Haiti. There, she noticed that most women do not get pre-natal care and those that do have one or two visits, which is inadequate. After visiting a number of times without a medical team Brunk was appalled at the stories women would tell her about losing their aunts, cousins and sisters from pre-medical causes. She noticed over 70% of women delivered at home without skilled care.
Midwives for Haiti has greatly impacted the way Haitian women view women’s healthcare. They are training Haitian students and matrons (traditional Haitian birth attendants) to become midwives while working within their cultural beliefs. Nadine Brunk wholeheartedly believes in the necessity of this, “This is very important because women in the community value the Matron of their community-- maybe they delivered their sister, their mother, etc. They trust these women. So, we need them to be trained and to look for risks and we’re incorporating them into our referral system.”
Though the US midwives learn about and respect, Haitian beliefs, such as the use of herbs to enhance nutrition, they also try to get them to understand that some may be harmful and cause problems. “A fatalistic illness [can] happen because someone put a curse on me. there are a lot of misconceptions, believing that if you vomit, your water’s broken through your mouth. [Or], the longer you leave the cord, the longer a boy’s penis will be and that leads to a lot of infections. There are just a lot of things we have to point out to them as harmful, that have been a part of their culture for many years,” Brunk explains.
The cultural difference can be a barrier to learn and accept the more medical side of prenatal care. The students who have a small amount of nursing training are more receptive than Matrons. However, the organization has found that they are more receptive to adjusting to new ideas when the teachers are Haitian. “It’s very important that our Haitian students do the teaching,” Brunk expounded, “[They get] them to understand that a woman doesn’t have a seizure because someone put a curse on her, but because her blood pressure is too high, [which] is caused by the pregnancy and needs medical care immediately or that a headache can mean a danger sign and she needs her blood pressure taken.”
The program has support from many organizations but over half the support comes from individuals with the majority being midwives. Because the budget is donor based, the funding relies greatly on those who care about maternal and fetal mortality in developing countries. Every year there are worries about keeping the program active with the resources they currently have. The organization has a goal of developing a school and a birthing center to get the midwives out to the rest of the country.