Researchers recently completed a study of a new method of giving health care to women in Northern Nigeria. They found women and children would use health services more often when they could see a female health worker.
Northern Nigeria is conservative area with a population that is mostly Muslim. Dr. Sally Findley is a professor at Columbia University Medical Center. She co-wrote the report on the study. She said it is unusual for women to work as health care providers there.
"Most women are not expected to be living on their own, providing health care essentially 24/7, or riding around meeting with families in the scattered hamlets."
Nigeria has one of the world's highest death rates of women connected with pregnancy and childbirth. This is called the "maternal death" rate. The worst rate of maternal death in Nigeria is in the northern region.
Male health workers do travel from town to town, but many women patients do not want to talk with a man about their own health care needs.
Dr. Findley said the trial study in Jigawa state required that many in the community be involved. It also needed support from religious leaders, even on such matters as transportation for the workers.
"We had to get permission from the state imam, the leader of all the Muslims in Jigawa, to have these female friendly motorcycles, and give permission for them to use them."
The program brought women into northern Nigeria as Community Health Extension Workers. It seems they were a big success in their community. There were five times more visits to the health center after the women health workers arrived than before. Dr. Findley said the program changed the minds of the women taking part.
"In fact, they did like this, and it did change their understanding of what they could get if they went to the facility for care."
The women of northern Nigeria could get health care at all hours in the local clinic. Mothers got help from women when they had normal births. If a mother giving birth needed more help, the Community Health Extension Workers sent her to a hospital. They also gave advice on family planning.
Each clinic had two health workers. That way, one could go out on home visits while the other was available to provide services in the clinic.
State officials in Jigawa were happy with the positive results of the study. They plan to expand the program of women community health workers.
The paper that describes the program by Sally Findley and her co-authors is published in the journal Global Health: Science and Practice.