Ethiopian Mother Mentors Bringing Birth Ceremonies to Health Centers to Promote Facility Delivery

 {Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH.}Genfo, an Ethiopian porridge especially prepared for women to help them recover after delivering a baby.Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH.

In Ethiopia, pregnant women eagerly await the traditional birth ceremony accompanying their delivery as much as they wait for their baby. In anticipation of the birth, the expectant mother and her friends celebrate together: dancing special dances and tasting distinctive foods that the mother will eat after her baby is born, such as genfo, an Ethiopian porridge. During delivery, the mother’s friends and family prepare a coffee ceremony, burn incense, and make genfo. Besides the joy of the ceremony, some people believe that if the mother doesn’t taste genfo as soon as she delivers the baby, evil could enter into her.

Many Ethiopian women give birth with the assistance of a traditional midwife, accompanied by the ceremony. Even when women learn that they should deliver at a health facility, many do not, out of fear of missing the traditional ceremony. This has contributed to the death of many mothers during delivery, and the transmission of HIV from mother to child.

Recognizing this situation, the mother mentors at Korem Health Center in Tigray, Ethiopia, started performing the traditional Ethiopian birth ceremony at their health center to motivate pregnant women to deliver at the facility. They contributed money and started preparing genfo and the coffee ceremony in early 2013 for women delivering at the facility.

As a result, many women now deliver at the health center. According to the mother mentors, since they started bringing the ceremony to the facility, 59 mothers have given birth at the health center, of whom 12 are HIV-positive.

The Ethiopia Network for HIV/AIDS Treatment, Care, & Support (ENHAT-CS) program has provided support to 236 mother mentors, who provide individual counseling and facilitate peer learning within mother support groups at 59 program supported health centers, since  September 2011. The program, a five-year USAID initiative funded by The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has helped nearly 10,000 HIV-positive mothers through support to mother mentors like those who are encouraging facility delivery by preparing the traditional Ethiopian birth ceremony at Korem Health Center.

Jember Alemayehu, one of the mother mentors, says:

We are now the talk of the town because we prepare the ceremony for women that deliver at the health center. Now pregnant mothers come to the health facility for delivery because it is like their homes.

Inspired by the mother mentors at Korem, mother mentors at Kukuftu Health Center, 50 kilometers away, are starting to provide the traditional Ethiopian birth ceremony for women delivering at their health center.