• As desperate civilians and expatriates flee the country, local midwives are stepping up and helping pregnant women bring new life into the world
• They are beacons of hope, providing a sense of security and continuity in communities shattered by conflict
In the heart of a war-torn Sudan, an ancient tradition is being rekindled amidst the chaos: midwifery.
As desperate civilians and expatriates flee the country, local midwives are stepping up to bring new life into the world despite the harrowing backdrop of violence and despair.
For the estimated 219,000 women who are currently pregnant in Khartoum alone, access to midwives is now the most critical factor in stopping preventable maternal and newborn deaths, according to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Even before the war, the Fund's World Population report showed that Sudan had a high maternal mortality rate of 295 deaths per 100,00 live births, against the world average of 211 deaths.
Now, the UN estimates 24,000 expectant mothers are set to deliver in the upcoming weeks amidst a whirlwind of clashes between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that have turned the streets of Khartoum into a war zone.
This precarious environment significantly hinders their ability to access crucial prenatal attention, secure birthing assistance, and vital post-birth care in hospitals that are damaged or becoming completely inoperable.
"Health facilities and hospitals should be safe havens in times of crisis," the UN Population Fund said on Saturday, condemning an attack on a hospital in Khartoum.
Laila Baker, the fund's regional director, said pregnant women in the capital city face dangerous conditions.
"We are acutely concerned," she said. "There is no way we can monitor them, there is no access to safe delivery services, no way to ensure even meagre communication."
Yet, despite such adversity, the local midwives have become beacons of hope, providing a sense of security and continuity in communities shattered by conflict.
As midwives step in to help deliver children safely, the UN is helping to coordinate, especially in the capital city, which has become the epicentre of the violence.
"We have designated phone numbers to receive requests for home births, and a midwife goes to perform the delivery," said Saadya, a midwife working in Jabal Awliya. "We are able to accept all requests for now."
In Khartoum's Kalakla, Jabal, Naser and Al Azhari areas, pregnant women and girls are mainly getting safe home deliveries with the help of 90 community midwives trained by UNFPA.
UNFPA has trained 460 midwives in the last two years, who provide quality maternal health services and build trust in even far-flung communities, including those affected by humanitarian crises.
Midwifery is an ancient tradition in Sudan that dates back to pre-Islamic times. It is a practice that honours women's autonomy, dignity and choices.
This time-honoured practice passed down through generations has been the backbone of maternal care in the region, providing holistic care to women and their babies from conception to postpartum.
As the situation grows increasingly dire, Sudanese midwives are relying on their resourcefulness and deep cultural knowledge to navigate the challenges they face.
With hospitals in ruins and supplies running dangerously low, these women are drawing upon their traditional wisdom and the resilience of their communities to ensure safe deliveries for mothers and their babies.
To many, the power of these midwives extends beyond the physical act of delivering babies; they are symbols of perseverance and hope.