A life dedicated to maternal health

Dec 12, 2011

Dr. François Gasse

by Jo Lynn Garing

During the 2011 convention in Geneva, Switzerland, Kiwanis magazine interviewed a physician whose devotion to the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus has earned him the nickname “Dr. Tetanus.” Now his cause is Kiwanis’ cause. Through The Eliminate Project, Kiwanis clubs and members worldwide aim to raise US$110 million to save and protect millions of mothers and their babies.

Dr. François Gasse has spent the past decades on the front lines of this battle—in the most impoverished, remote reaches of the world. In this interview, he talks about how he became involved in the fight against this “silent killer.”

Here is an excerpt from that conversation. For more of the interview, go to the December 2011 issue at www.kiwanismagazine.org.

Kiwanis Magazine: Tell us the story of Mado.

Gasse: The only way you can help countries in the field is by walking with them in the field and knowing what problems they face. Being on the front line is a feeling of experience that is unique. Because problems are not solved the same way in different cultures.

One story I love to talk about is Mado. It was in Burkino Faso in Africa. They made the most beautiful, detailed plan I had ever seen. You know, the communications, the radio, the posters, all the vaccinators were there, and only 1 percent of the women came to the post. In the office in the capital city, there was a cleaning woman. And an official in that office asked what’s going wrong, why the women don’t come. And this lady, the cleaner, said, “But have you talked to Mado?”

“Who is Mado?”

“Mado? You don’t know Mado?” And she said, “Mado is the most respected, oldest midwife of the city, and no woman will move until Mado says, ‘It is good for you. Go for it.’”

The official went to Mado, and Mado says, “Yeah, it is good for the women.” And the next day, everybody was there.

The lesson is that every community has a Mado. And in the family, in the household, who is the decision-maker there? Sometimes it is the mother or the father. Sometimes it is the oldest person in the household, but in every household you have a decision-maker. So when you do your communication, the one you convince may not be the wife or the woman you immunize, it is whoever will say you can.
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