Myanmar Midwives: Giving Mothers and Families a Healthier Future

June 1, 2017 • Myanmar
Midwife Wae Wae Tun works in four remote villages in Myanmar. Midwives play an important role in the overall health of women, children, and families.
Midwife Wae Wae Tun works in four remote villages in Myanmar. Midwives play an important role in the overall health of women, babies, and families.

Samaritan’s Purse trained more than 40 midwives in a rural, impoverished township of Myanmar.

Even with monsoon season still a few weeks away, floodwaters already were threatening to take over remote villages in Myanmar’s Tada U Township. Water encroached up to the walls of bamboo homes. Swollen streams and rivers turned dirt and gravel roads into raging rapids.

Travel to the township’s only hospital can be a treacherous, muddy mess for pregnant women, especially for those in villages several hours away.

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Wae Wae Tun lives in one of these remote areas. She’s a midwife, and none of the four villages she serves is near the hospital.

The 30-year-old is the only midwife serving the area. This means she has an overwhelming caseload of more than 800 households.

Her work and that of other midwives is critical to mothers and children in Tada U Township and in villages across Myanmar—a country with the second highest infant mortality rate and lowest life expectancy in Southeast Asia. Myanmar is also one of Asia’s poorest economies.

Myanmar midwives training

Midwives in Tada U Township learned how to be prepared in critical situations.

Wae Wae Tun and 42 other women recently attended a Samaritan’s Purse training for Tada U midwives. These midwives often are the first, and only, healthcare providers a woman will see during her pregnancy.

Samaritan’s Purse is working to help save the lives of mothers and babies in Tada U by providing their midwives practical, hands-on training so they’re more capable, confident, and efficient.

We’re also working in Jesus’ Name to improve the overall health of women and children through programs such as nutrition training, mother to mother support groups, and menstruation hygiene management.

A Resilient Heart

“I didn’t have a comfortable situation compared with the other children,” Wae Wae Tun explained. “My father was a drinker. We were not okay financially growing up.”

Although her father is no longer an alcoholic, Wae Wae Tun can’t forget a less than joyful childhood because of his drinking.

Her parents are farmers who sometimes struggled supporting their family on income earned from growing and selling garlic and chili. Often, after school and on weekends, Wae Wae Tun helped her mom hand roll tobacco for cigarettes to earn additional income.

But Wae Wae Tun was determined. She didn’t give up on finding a job where she could help others.

Seven years ago, she began working as a midwife in Tada U, one of Myanmar’s poorest areas and a township where Buddhism is deeply entrenched. About 90 percent of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist.

Wae Wae Tun visits two of her four villages every week and meets with pregnant women for checkups and counseling about prenatal and postnatal care.

She is grateful for the training Samaritan’s Purse provided because she refreshed her skills in helping newborn babies in the crucial first minute of life. Wae Wae Tun and the midwives practiced on mannequins using a bag and mask to ventilate babies struggling to breathe.

“If we practice more, we will have more confidence,” she said.

With every passing year Wae Wae Tun is more confident as a midwife, especially when it comes to recognizing potential problems during delivery.

“Now I have more experience and can refer women [to the hospital] as soon as possible,” she said.

Standing in the Gap

Every year, more than 2,800 pregnant women in Myanmar die from preventable causes related to pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal care. Even women who live close and could receive care at the hospital or a rural health center often choose to give birth in their village because they prefer comfortable, familiar surroundings with family and friends.

Only about half of babies delivered in Myanmar’s rural communities are delivered by a skilled provider.

Cindy Uttley led midwives through the helping babies breathe training.

So, training is crucial as Myanmar midwives seek to play a more prominent role that extends beyond prenatal and postnatal care and also includes labor and delivery.

“Midwives function as the bridge between a normal delivery with a happy outcome and emergency help,” said Cindy Uttley, Samaritan’s Purse community health advisor. Cindy, who has a clinical background as a nurse-midwife, led the recent training.

Midwives encourage expectant mothers to give birth at a healthcare facility, but when women decide to remain in the village, midwives must be ready to assist, especially in critical situations.

For example, the training helped prepare midwives to respond during the Golden Minute.

“The training provides a systematic approach to be sure a baby is breathing within the first minute of life with basic, easy interventions,” Cindy explained.

A Brighter Future

When Thein Than Tin began as a midwife nine years ago she worked in five villages. She now works with pregnant women in one village, but that’s still a staggering 468 households.

Most families in her village, like the majority of Tada U families, are farmers who work hard but still struggle to make ends meet.

Thein Than Tin enjoys her work as a midwife because she’s helping save the lives of mothers and babies.

Many parents in Thein Than Tin’s village have little education, so mothers aren’t aware of basic practices such as caring for a newborn or good nutrition for their children.

As a midwife, Thein Than Tin takes time to talk with women about these topics, especially nutrition. She said she is grateful to Samaritan’s Purse for distributing micronutrient powder supplements to babies and children in her village to help fight against malnutrition.

“If the baby is healthy, the parents are happy,” she said.

Although her work can be hard, and the days sometimes long, it’s worth it to this 32-year-old mother to help raise up a generation with a brighter future.

“I want to improve the health education of people in my village,” Thein Than Tin said. “I want families to be healthy.”

Please pray for Samaritan’s Purse staff as they serve in Myanmar. Please pray for opportunities to demonstrate God’s love in tangible ways to mothers, children, and families.

Please pray for midwives in Myanmar as they seek to provide excellent care to mothers, babies, and families.

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Your gift will help us operate birthing centers, educate women on nutrition, make home visits, and meet other urgent needs. As our Christian workers build relationships with these young families, God gives us opportunities to share the wonderful truth about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Care for Mothers and Infants Tragically, hundreds of young mothers and thousands of newborns die every day from preventable causes. Your gift can help Samaritan’s Purse reduce the mortality rates of women and their young children by improving obstetric care, teaching essential nutrition practices, and increasing access to quality healthcare.

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