According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the number of women and girls who died each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth declined from 451,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2017.
These improvements are particularly remarkable in light of rapid population growth in many of the countries where maternal deaths are highest. Still, over 800 women are dying each day from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. And for every woman who dies, approximately 20 others suffer serious injuries, infections, or disabilities.
Quite disturbingly, two regions, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, account for 86% of maternal deaths worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africans suffer from the highest maternal mortality ratio – 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 200,000 maternal deaths a year. This is over two-thirds (68%) of all maternal deaths per year worldwide.
It is statistics like these as well as hands-on, personal experiences with real-world cases that motivated a young midwife to embark on an aggressive campaign of educating would-be as well as new parents on the risk factors of infant and maternal mortality.
From early beginnings at the Shai Osudoku Hospital in Accra, Stella Agyei has expanded her sensitisation and education drive to the television screens, reaching a wider audience and having a greater impact, in spite of tremendous difficulties. Below, we delve into the making of the young but vastly experienced midwife who is redefining health education and outreach.
Early life and education
Stella describes her humble childhood as “not easy” owing to “the lack of support and understanding from her guardian,” as well as having to contend with all that came along from very evident financial constraints. She was, however, a sprightly child who exuded confidence and had a knack for self-motivation, traits she has carried along into adulthood and impacted all who come across her path with.
Having a penchant for reading and realising that nothing was going to be offered her on a silver platter, Stella was determined to turn her narrative around through academic excellence, most notably, during her time at the Nsaaba Presbyterian School, when she was so many miles away from home.
Her desire to succeed was heightened through the various vacation schools she attended. It was through these schools that she realised that she was equally as good as her counterparts from the A-rated schools in Kumasi despite her attending a B-rated school.
Following a stellar performance during the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), she gained admission to the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS), where she was again excelled in her studies and earned her first degree, with Bachelor of Midwifery.
Health education as a lively passion
During her days at UHAS, she engaged in the buying and selling of garments to augment the source of her educational funding, which was inadequate. This was the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey.
Upon graduation, she was posted to the Shai Osudoku Hospital in Accra or her mandatory year of national service. There, she took delight in educating expectant parents, having realised the rather disturbingly high infant and maternal mortality rates, all the while discharging duties related to labour management. This passion and the skills required to execute it were further honed during a number of Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHIPS) compounds in and around the Volta Region.
The Health Link Show
The desire continued and has evolved, with a special focus on preventive health and education, culminating in the birth of the Health Link Show. This came after the insistence of a bosom friend, who believed that Stella had the right mix of skill, passion, and experience to put together a very successful and impactful health-centric TV show. She began committing resources towards the show around October of 2018.
Several challenges came along the way in putting this health-education show together, most notably, identifying and attracting the right sponsors, particularly for the very first season. Despite being an uphill task, as she had very little verifiable record in this new venture, she was, through grit, persistence, and a detailed plan, able to secure good sponsorship deals which enabled her to shoot the first season.
The pilot episode aired a year after on October 29, 2019, on GHOne Television. So far, two seasons have been aired on GHOne, with the third season is coming up. Despite ongoing challenges, including signing up sponsors, putting together a production crew, content creation, research, and logistic constraints, Health Link is on course for season three, which will focus on some selected rural communities.
The third season will have the regular health education element, donation of medical logistics, provision of some primary health care where applicable. Additionally, clothing and consumables will also be given to some members of these communities who are impoverished.
The young, yet experienced midwife has been able to impact a lot of lives through her platform as a health educator and promoter, particularly through the show where she has oftentimes had to serve as the sole host, executive producer, marketer, and script writer among others.
Through the success of the show, Stella has been able to legally establish a foundation aimed at supporting individuals and communities with pertinent and pressing health issues. This is called the Health Link Specialist Foundation. Though this foundation is still in its nascent stage, it has provided logistics, consumables, and funds to support some health-related charitable causes in many communities.
These items include cash, wheelchairs, Zimmer frames, foodstuffs (oil, rice, tomato pastes, etc.), toiletries (soap, detergents, sanitary pads, diapers,), and medical supplies (thermometers, sphygmomanometer, skin creams, medications, nose masks, hand sanitizers e.t.c).
In prior seasons, Health Link TV show has been sponsored and supported by Nestle Ghana Limited, Moods Condom, M&C Properties, Prince Syrup, Unilever, Pharmanova, BD medical laboratories, and Home fresh foods.
So far, with the production of the third season underway, only one sponsor has come on board, and Health Link is thankful to the management of Serene Insurance for its commitment.
According to Stella Agyei: “We are humbly appealing to other individuals and corporates to come on-board. We are still accepting sponsorship and donations from individuals and companies to enable us to cover costs of production, surgeries, hospital & medication bills, and other unforeseen expenses of some sick people in need of medical attention in this third season.”