Mille is a moderate-sized Afar town about 90 minutes south of Semera that, on first glance, virtually indistinguishable from any of the other towns along the busy Djibouti-Addis highway. Pay a visit and you’ll notice a number of restaurants, a few hotels, and an assortment of stores and shops, all of which exist primarily to serve the truckers and tourists who pass through here en route to somewhere else. At risk of offending the local BIA, it’s safe to say that for most people Mille is not a destination, but a way-point on a longer (and more interesting) journey.
That is unless you’re a pregnant woman.
That’s because for nearly five years Mille has also been home to the Barbara May Maternity Hospital, an Australian-backed institution that offers a wide-range of medical services to expecting Afar women and their children.
Located on a hill just off the main highway with a great view of the town, the hospital was built here as a means of addressing the high rates of maternal-morbidity and mortality that have haunted the Afar region for decades.
The Afar have long had one of the highest rates of maternal mortality within Ethiopia, which itself boasts one of the worst rates in the world. The maternal mortality rate for the Afar region is 801 per 100,000 live births, compared to 673 per 100,000 for Ethiopia as a whole. (In comparison Canada’s maternal mortality rate is 6.2 per 100,000 live births.)
These numbers are darkly reflected by the very low female population in Afar, which is 44 percent compared to the national average of 51 percent. A number of factors contribute to these statistics.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, the lead UN agency in charge of maternal-child health, at 93 percent the Afar region has the highest unskilled birth attendance rates in Ethiopia. Combine this with a higher than average fertility rate of 5 children per woman (the national average is 4.8), the second-lowest rate of contraceptive prevalence in the country (6.5 percent, compared to 29 percent nationally), and the persistence of dangerous traditions like female genital mutilation, and you start to understand Afar’s higher than average levels of maternal mortality.
Thankfully, Barbara May is in Mille to help. Run by Dr. Margaret McDougald, a volunteer from Australia, the hospital has a staff of 40 that delivers babies — and more — to patients who come from all over the Afar. Dr. Margaret (as she’s affectionately known) oversees examinations, Cesarean sections, emergency surgeries, and more on compound that houses for permanent buildings, a water tower, and a series of deboytas for families to stay in. She also holds regular bi-weekly drop-in clinics where she conducts gynecological exams and provides sexual health advice.
Though the hospital existed for a relatively short period of time, word about its services have spread thanks in part to dagu, the traditional Afar system of oral communication and news. Afar women and families walk great distances, in some cases hundreds of kilometres, to get an appointment with Dr. Margaret or one of her staff.
Can-Go Afar is pleased to be a supporter of the Barbara May hospital, having provided medical supplies, infrastructure, equipment, and medical expertise since its inception in September 2011. On this day, the CGA team was here to deliver three suitcases of medical supplies from Canada to Dr. Margaret and her staff, as well as check in on a vaginal probe and portable ultrasound that was recently purchased with funds from The Can-Go Afar Foundation.
It’s an incredibly worthwhile cause, and we are fortunate to have found a local partner that is having such a positive effect of the lives of Afar women and children. Effective partnerships such as these are critical to a humanitarian organization like Can-Go Afar, which is committed to helping issues of health and well-being, and alleviating the effects of abject poverty in the Afar region.
One of the ways we do this is by innovative fundraising efforts, like the Can-Go Afar Livestock Challenge our first crowd-funding campaign on GoFundMe.com. Once we learned that more than 2 million Afar goats and sheep died of thirst and starvation as a result of the 2015/2016 drought in the Horn of Africa, we knew we needed to take fast action.
With more than 200,000 Afar families currently in immediate need, The Can-Go Afar Livestock Challenge is hoping to raise $50,000 to help restock 1,000 goats and sheep that were lost during the drought. It’s straight-forward: $50 buys a goat, $100 will buy a sheep, and $500 buys enough goats for an Afar household of 12 people.
If we reach our goal, 100 of the neediest Afar households will receive a full complement of livestock and will be returned to their pre-drought conditions.
It couldn’t be simpler: Buy a goat (or a sheep), save a life.
To date we have raised more than $6,000. This is a great start, and we thank all of our supporters — but we need to keep the momentum going if we want to make a real and effective change for the better.
We encourage you to check out our project at GoFundMe.com/CanGoAfar and pledge to help the Afar — the oldest indigenous tribe on earth — get back on their feet.
If you have already donated, please send this link to The Can-Go Afar Livestock Challenge (www.GoFundMe.com/cangoafar) with your family and friends. And please share it on social media, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Also be sure to keep an eye on our website for tomorrow’s blog post, where we meet a woman who got herself and her family back on her feet thanks to a micro-finance program that Can-Go Afar supports. You can also stay-up-to-date on our Facebook and Twitter pages, where we are posting photos daily.
Thanks, Inshalla, and Gaaxa Key from Afar!