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Angel Training Camp
Wenzhou Medical University trains midwives for Africa
By Hu Fan | VOL.11 September ·2019-09-09

Students attending a class at the First Affiliated Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University (HU FAN)

It was a hot summer day in July at the First Affiliated Hospital of Wenzhou Medical University. A group of African students were sitting around the table in a lounge. On one side of the table, three senior midwives of the hospital were using models to demonstrate the essentials of delivery.

These African students were being trained at the university for nearly two weeks in a midwifery training program titled Angel of Life. Today was the last day of their training. According to the agenda, after the demonstration, they would enter the delivery room to observe how a baby is taken care of from the moment it is delivered.

The class was then interrupted by a nurse, who brought the latest news from the delivery room: Indications showed that the pregnant woman who had volunteered for the program was about to deliver soon. On hearing this, the lecturers decided to put aside the demonstration and invited everybody into the delivery room.

Fruitful experience

The program, first launched last year, is sponsored and carried out by the School of Nursing, Wenzhou Medical University. This year, the program engaged a total of 25 trainees from nine African countries such as Botswana and Ghana, most of whom were studying in Chinese universities, in a two-week period of intensive training session.

Lu Zhongqiu, Dean of the school, told ChinAfrica that the program provides basic training to African students on midwifery such as neonatal first aide aimed at contributing to improved maternal and newborn healthcare in Africa.

"During delivery, the involvement of midwives is essential, and the skills and abilities of midwives are directly related to the health of the mother and baby," he said.

The program was attended not only by girls, but also 10 young men interested in midwifery. Joseph Akparibila Azure is a Ghanaian student in the first year of his master's program in obstetrics and gynaecology at Hainan Medical College located in south China. He heard of the midwifery program from a friend. Although his major is not midwifery, he enrolled in the program thinking that he might need to guide midwives working with him in the future.

Compared with other students, he has many years of medical experience and this enabled him to provide guidance to other students. Even so, he said that he had gained a lot of new knowledge, which he believed was due to the thoughtful organization of the program.

"The people handling the program are very good, their English is very good and they are learned," he said.

Lu said that with a history of over 60 years, his well-staffed university is strong in term of international cooperation. Since 1999, the university has trained more than 1,500 international students, of whom African students accounted for about 50 percent. To ensure that the students master the midwifery skills, the training program was designed to include exercises in labs and observations in hospitals in addition to theoretical study. "We hope they can work as midwives after returning to their countries," said Lu.

Students learn about newborn care (HU FAN)

Helpful assistance

The program was launched in response to the urgent need of midwifery skills in Africa. According to UNICEF data, Sub-Saharan Africans suffer from the highest maternal mortality ratio - 546 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 201,000 maternal deaths a year. That is two-thirds of all maternal deaths per year worldwide.

Aba Miracle Nfawami is from Nigeria and is currently studying Chinese at Liaoning Medical College as a preparatory step for her future medical studies. She said that the wife of one of her friends died last year, three days after giving birth to a child. She had no idea what took her life until she had spent two weeks in the program. She recalled the symptoms at the time and believed the cause was postpartum hemorrhage.

"If I meet anyone giving birth, be it my family member or a friend, or anyone on a bus or in a mall, I can be of help," she said.

According to her, maternal death was a major concern in Nigeria, especially in rural areas. She said that with what she had learnt in the program, she had the ability to contribute to improving maternal and newborn healthcare in her county if she had the chance to work as a midwife.

In terms of spreading midwifery skills to Africa, Wenzhou Medical University has high hopes for this program. Lu said that the impact of the training class is to be enlarged. They plan to expand the size of the class to some 30 students and, when conditions are right, run the program locally in Africa.

The university has a long history of providing medical assistance to Africa. Since 1972, it has sent a total of 49 medical professionals to countries such as the Central Africa Republic, Mali and Namibia. A team of four medical practitioners is currently based in the Central African Republic.

In January 2019, the school sent a medical team of 11 experts to Burkina Faso, where they provided free cataract surgeries to 146 local patients. It was the first short-term medical aid program between China and Burkina Faso since the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2018.

It is also Azure's wish to bring the training courses to Africa. He said that after the training, many students would stay in China for a few years and may forget what they learnt when they are back to Africa; some even can't find their way into the community.

"If the trainers go to Africa and train the people in the community, the trainees will start the practice immediately. With that, you can expect a hundred-percent impact of the program," he said.

A dream comes true

Behind this program is a touching story about China-Africa friendship. It began in 2011, when Dong Qixin, Director of a Beijing-based company which is one of the program's sponsors, met Joseph Kahama, Secretary General of the Tanzania-China Friendship Promotion Association, and his wife Nancy Kahama. They soon became close friends and would meet whenever Dong visited Tanzania or the Kahama family visited China.

In 2014, when Dong was in Tanzania attending a forum, they met again. During the meeting, Dong mentioned the many unattended children she saw on the roads. Nancy told her that some of the children were orphans. She then said that while China has done a lot in Africa in terms of infrastructure construction, African people also need midwives. "Not necessarily doctors with high levels of skills; a midwife can save many lives," she said.

Nancy asked Dong if she could organize a midwifery training program for Africa. It had been Nancy's long-cherished wish to organize Tanzanian healthcare workers and students to study midwifery in China, thus saving lives lost due to a lack of midwives and midwifery skills in Tanzania. Feeling obliged, Dong promised to help Nancy realize her wish.

Bearing her promise in mind, Dong would bring up the plan whenever she met a potential partner. Her efforts paid off in 2017, when the proposal gained full support from the management of Wenzhou Medical University. Then the first Angel of Life training was held in August 2018.

Upon hearing the news, Nancy came all the way from Dar es Salaam to Wenzhou with three medical practitioners. On her way to China, she thought it was a dream that somehow came true.

Being a fruit of the friendship between people from China and Africa, the program intends to carry forward this precious legacy. In addition to intensive learning of professional knowledge, the students were invited to visit Wenzhou's local cultural attractions and experience Chinese culture.

"A better understanding of the Chinese culture helps promote the friendship between the peoples of China and African countries," Lu said.

(Comments to hufan@chinafrica.com)

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