Health hero Tannes Kalinda uses her past experiences as a Traditional Birthing Attendant (TBA) to encourage women to go to hospital to give birth. CORNEL VAN HEERDEN/ AL JAZEERA

Tannes Kalinda: ‘I was shocked and sad’

Health hero Tannes Kalinda’s troubled past as a traditional birth attendant inspired her to save mothers in Malawi.

“A mother was giving birth and as a Traditional Birthing Attendant (TBA) I was delivering the baby, the woman later bled profusely. I was so shocked and she died in my arms. I was shocked and sad and didn’t want to see anymore women or babies dying.”

This is how Tannes describes the scene that has been haunting her for years. Tannes is sharing the tragic story of one of her last assisted births in her village Mpanje in Malawi.

“There was blood everywhere and we never used any equipment and women would deliver in the huts,” she adds.

Kalinda’s late mother trained her in the 1970s. For decades TBAs were the only midwives assisting women giving birth. They were located all over rural Malawi and women would simply go to a TBA when they felt they were about to deliver and give birth in their huts. . There was no equipment or drugs. If there was an emergency there was no help on hand.

Some say this was the main contributor to Malawi’s high maternal mortality rate.

“I use to help my mother and it was natural that I would also become a TBA.” But after that tragic birth in 2007, Tannes became a vocal proponent for safe motherhood in the country. It later coincided with the Presidential Safe Motherhood Initiative and TBA’s were then outlawed in 2008.

Women were always shy to make decisions. Men were always the ones who decide this. Now that we have men in the group they share the responsibility.

by Health hero Tannes Kalinda,

But Kalinda says there are still a few TBA’s operating in some villages in the country but prefers them to rather be referral points and not be allowed to deliver babies.

“They do not have equipment and cannot be allowed to deliver babies,” says Kalinda.

She continues, “I joined the Chikondo Women’s Group to ensure that we encourage women to give birth at hospitals. . I am glad women now have access to hospitals and are no longer dying.” Kalinda has also encouraged men to join the group.

“Women were always shy to make decisions. Men were always the ones who decide this. Now that we have men in the group they share the responsibility.”

The group, with the assistance of local chiefs, has become the main proponent for safe motherhood. “ It is very important for Chiefs to be involved, they are the gatekeepers in our society and get respect from villagers. If they are involved, then everyone will be involved in the safe motherhood issue,” says Kalinda.

As the vocal Chairperson of the group, Kalinda says the government must come to the table to assist these groups especially with training.

“We would like to improve our skills and need assistance with this but also with fertilizer so that we can ensure better nutrition for pregnant women.”

Kalinda is one of many health heroes of Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health.

Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health will air on Al Jazeera in 2014.