PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The aftermath of the earthquake is still visible on the walls of the former National School of Nurses and Midwives in Port-Au-Prince. A tent that served as a makeshift classroom is still pitched in the yard.
Students, teachers, and school leaders had dreamed of a better training space ever since a devastating earthquake hit Haiti on 12 January, 2010. Their wish came true last month with the inauguration of a new National Midwifery School (École Nationale des Infirmières Sages-Femmes ) housed in a brand new earthquake-resistant building, with support from UNFPA in collaboration with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
Located next to one of the largest maternity hospitals in the country that will serve as a practical clinical training site for its students, the new midwifery school is currently offering two study options: a three year direct-entry midwifery course immediately after high school, or, an 18-month midwifery training programme for existing nurses. A total of 80 students will be trained in the first year, including 39 nurses and 41 direct-entry midwives.
In a country with the highest maternal death rate in the Western Hemisphere – 630 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to national statistics – these future graduates will pave the way for the reduction of maternal mortality in Haiti.
Classes began in October and the new students could not hide their enthusiasm.
"My dream has always been to help moms and newborns, to give advice to young people on family planning, and to help families to better plan their lives,” said Mathurin Bethany, one of the midwifery freshmen. ”My admission to the training programme has finally offered me this opportunity."
The First Lady of the Republic, Ms. Sophia Martelly, and the Minister of Public Health and Population, Dr. Florence Duperval Guillaume, inaugurated the Midwifery School.
"This programme will implement a management plan to train human resources for maternal and newborn health, as well as for family planning. It will provide qualified staff able to monitor the pregnancy from conception to the postnatal period and beyond," said Dr. Guillaume.
Haiti has a very poor ratio of health workers, with only one doctor for 8,000 inhabitants, one nurse for 6,000 inhabitants, and one midwife for every 50,000 inhabitants.
Through the programmes offered at the new establishment, the Department of Health hopes to quickly train 600 midwives who will meet the need for qualified personnel in Haitian maternities, according to the Chief of Family Health, Dr. Reynold Grand Pierre. The Ministry sees the construction of the Midwifery School in the context of a comprehensive project to reduce maternal and infant mortality in Haiti.
In the long-term, the Haitian Government plans to have at least four midwifery schools spread throughout the country, which will provide the human resources for all essential maternal and newborn life-saving functions.
Dubbed ‘Smile Clinics’, these maternity hospitals will offer obstetric and neonatal emergency care as well as family planning, programmes to combat gender-based violence, and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.
“The ‘Smile Clinics’ are actually designed to provide the full range of reproductive health services, with qualified staff”, said Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, the UNFPA Representative in Haiti.