Thank you, Mama Maria

Growing up, Mary Gorret Musoke, later nicknamed “Mama Maria,” was the only girl in her village in Uganda to receive more than a basic education. Her older brother wisely lobbied their father, who relented and allowed Mama Maria to attend school.

Education changed the trajectory of Mama Maria’s life and consequently empowered her to make women the focus of her life’s work. Today, she is a midwife, health advocate and successful businesswoman running a growing midwifery practice. She is also an advisor to the Ugandan Ministry of Health on how to make sure women in her country receive lifesaving, high quality maternal health services wherever they seek care.

Simply put, Mama Maria is one of my heroes.

Maternal Health
Mama Maria examines one of her patients at the Mama Maria Maternity Ward, located on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda. Credit: Merck for Mothers

She is also one of the strongest assets we have in ending preventable maternal deaths – the tragic death of a woman from complications of pregnancy or childbirth.

Although there has been great progress in reducing maternal mortality, we are not where we should be. As we strive to lower maternal mortality rates, we need to focus on improving the quality of care that pregnant women receive. And to do that, we need to ensure that private midwives like Mama Maria are equipped to deliver the best care possible.

Around the world, 40 percent of women in low- and middle-income countries receive maternal and family planning care from local private health providers, including midwives. In fact, midwives are often heralded as the “key to family planning, a safe pregnancy and childbirth.” According to the World Health Organization, investing in strengthening midwifery services and education can result in a 16-fold return in terms of lives saved and costs of caesarean sections avoided.

In Uganda, a country that still has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, Mama Maria is one of countless locally-based private midwives meeting the needs of her community. In spite of their vital role serving pregnant women and delivering babies, private midwives are still an overlooked part of the healthcare system.