ASAYITA, Afar Region, Ethiopia – Imagine being a midwife in a remote, fragile context, like the Afar region in Ethiopia. This hot low-land and desert-like area has been affected by conflict, driving up the headcount poverty rate to 30 percent. This has worsened food insecurity for Afar’s population, who mostly make a living as livestock farmers and are often dependent on government support. The conflict conditions have also damaged thousands of healthcare facilities in the northern part of the country.


Most maternal deaths happen in poor and fragile settings, but the majority can be prevented with access to quality care. However, many of the midwives working in Afar’s local health centers lack the necessary skills and knowledge to manage childbirth in the safest way possible. They often have to refer women with birth complications to larger hospitals that are far from their homes.

Building quality care through mentoring

Through a national flagship catchment-based mentorship program, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health is seeking to improve the quality of care provided to mothers and their newborns, particularly in remote, fragile areas such as the Afar region.

This program is about transferring knowledge from experienced midwives to those who are new or less experienced, while also helping them to practice their skills in managing pregnancy, births, and complications.

Kemal Hassan is a 26-year-old midwife who works at the hospital in Asayita, one of the bigger cities in the Afar region. He has been part of the mentorship program for three years and currently has six mentees at a local health facility in Afar’s Afambo district.

“New midwives often lack practical experience. As a midwife mentor, I help identify and fill the gaps in my mentees’ skills and knowledge and, together, we help ensure safer births for more women and their babies,” Mr. Hassan says.

As part of the mentorship program, Mr. Hassan supervises his mentees’ handling of live cases at these local facilities. His mentorship is already having a significant impact: “Kemal has changed me,” one of his mentees explains. “Before, I was scared to handle birth complications such as excessive bleeding. I lacked practical experience. But now, after having Kemal as my mentor, I work confidently.”

Adding skills-based practice and digital learning

Both Mr. Hassan and his mentees agree that skill-based practice is crucial in building up the necessary skills for midwives. One of his mentees says: “Many trainings are just showcasing how to handle different scenarios concerning pregnancy and birth. It is not practical, and then you don’t learn."

That’s why the Maternity Foundation is working with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and partners, including UNFPA and UNICEF, to implement this mentorship program in Ethiopia’s Somali and Afar regions. We are strengthening the mentorship program by combining it with our Safe Delivery+ program, which offers hands-on, skills-based practice and provides access to a digital tool called the Safe Delivery App. This free app also works offline once downloaded.

Building on the Safe Delivery+ program, Mr. Hassan and other midwife mentors can combine mentoring with practical exercises on subjects, including newborn resuscitation and management of excessive bleeding after birth. Mr. Hassan also uses the Safe Delivery App for guidance on how to handle birth and common complications. It offers simple, animated instruction videos, descriptions of practical procedures, and action cards.

Mr. Hassan asks his mentees to go through specific modules in the app, before and after doing joint practical exercises. He also asks them to complete the app’s MyLearning sessions. Here, the mentees are quizzed on their knowledge and can achieve a formal certification after passing all modules at the expert level.

The app can also help mentees with live cases when the mentor is unavailable. “When Kemal or my colleagues are not there, I can always go to the Safe Delivery App for answers,” one of Mr. Hassan's mentees explains.

The combination of the mentorship program with skills-based practice and continued digital support through the Safe Delivery+ Programme is showing promising results. The midwives at the local health facility in Afar’s Afambo district tell us that they are now referring fewer women to the district hospital. The same experience has been shared by midwife mentees in other local health facilities.

Scaling up the Midwife Mentorship Programme

Building on experiences from Somalia and the Afar region, the Maternity Foundation, together with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and other partners, is exploring how to further streamline and scale up this program.

The combination of the catchment-based mentorship program with the hands-on practice and continued learning offered by the Safe Delivery+ program is giving people access to better quality care. In poor and fragile settings like Afar, tools that improve the skills, experience, and knowledge of midwives are a crucial lifeline for women and babies.

Go to top