Abuja, NIGERIA – Rita Momoh is a nurse-midwife at a hospital in Abuja, Nigeria. With 15 years of experience and two children of her own, she understands the struggles facing pregnant women in the country. One of the biggest challenges is anaemia, which has serious health risks for both mother and child.
More than 60% of all pregnant women in Nigeria experience anaemia of some kind. It increases the risk of maternal mortality, impacts the wellbeing and development of the infant, and can lead to low birthweight and stunting of the child. Yet only 31% of women in Nigeria take iron-folic acid tablets for the recommended 90 days or more during their pregnancy, and 31% of pregnant women do not take them at all.
“Nigerian women either don’t have access to nutritious food, or they don’t know how to balance their meals,” said Rita. “There is nobody they can ask for advice. I have seen so many women who miscarried or even died as a result of malnutrition and anaemia.”
In Nigeria, nurses and midwives like Rita are key providers of maternal healthcare services, including antenatal care, postnatal care and family planning. As frontline healthcare providers, nurses and midwives are well-positioned to provide critical nutrition interventions to ensure that mothers and infants are well-nourished and healthy. However, most nurses and midwives lack sufficient training, knowledge and skills related to nutrition.
Every three years, nurses and midwives in Nigeria must undergo training in selected areas to update their knowledge and renew their professional licenses. Until 2019, no nutrition education or training was included in this program. Nutrition International, through Nutrition Leverage and Influence for Transformation (NLIFT), worked with UNFPA in Nigeria, the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria and state ministries to develop and integrate a maternal nutrition module into the curriculum.
When the time came for Rita to renew her license, she decided to take the nutrition training.
“The nutrition course was an eye-opener,” she said. “I realized how much has changed since I got my midwife degree. I learned new knowledge and new approaches. I promised myself that from now on, no woman whom I counsel will have to suffer from anaemia.”
After finishing the course, Rita put her newly acquired knowledge into practice. She started running group counseling sessions in the hospital to provide basic knowledge of hygiene and nutrition, creating a safe environment to encourage honest discussions. She also offers her patients private counseling and even home visits, making herself available for whatever they need.
“We do a lot of home visits,” said Rita. “When I come into someone’s house I try to observe how they prepare meals, how they hold their babies during breastfeeding, even how they take care of hygiene. I use laughter to make a connection. It builds a friendly atmosphere of trust that helps to change behaviours.”
More than 1,600 nurses and midwives have already been trained as part of the program. Thanks to the collaboration with the ministries, it has been integrated with the state-run nurse license renewal training. Every month new nurses are being trained who then apply their skills working with pregnant women. Sustainably ingrained in the state-run program, nutrition training has the potential to reach all nurses and midwives in Nigeria. Through them millions of women will gain invaluable knowledge about nutrition that can prevent anaemia and ensure safer, healthier pregnancies.
“Every day I’m waking up committed to making the lives of my patients better,” said Rita. “I have two kids of my own, but in a way, I feel connected with thousands of children in Nigeria who I helped bring to life. I’m rooting for them to realize their full potential.”