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July 15th, 2008
Birth of a Surgeon
Video: Full Episode

With more than half a million women dying in pregnancy or childbirth worldwide, Mozambique’s surgical training programs are being hailed as a model solution in confronting the maternal health crisis facing developing countries. The film captures one woman’s story on the frontlines of improving maternal mortality but it also demonstrates how low-cost, community-based health initiatives are changing the face of public health in Africa.

The film Birth of a Surgeon follows Emilia Cumbane, one of the first midwives-in-training. She performs Cesareans and hysterectomies in makeshift operating rooms in rural Mozambique. We follow Cumbane from her home in the Mozambican capital Maputo, into intensive medical classes, through night shifts in the delivery wards, and watch as she fights for recognition of her surgical competence.

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  • Iyesha

    $1,000 for a generator? I have $1,000 and I could supply them with enough gloves for a year if given the chance. This is a tragedy. Americans waste money on a plethora of mundane things while countries like Mozambique and many others do not have simple things such as a generator and gloves so that they can perform these life-saving procedures. It’s a shame….

  • Wilma Morris

    Can you provide a mailing address for Emilia Cumbane, the midwife surgeon in your video? I would like very much to correspond with her. She is a very strong woman and an example to women around the world and I would like to know her better and become friends. Thank you.

  • Lisa Ellis

    My heart and soul was extremly moved by what these african woman have to go thru. I would like to get involved in helping in some way. Whatever and however please let me know. This show touched the depth of my being and I want to thank you for broadcasting this on PBS. God bless all the people involved.

  • Tomekia

    This story too saddened me; however, what is the alternative? I would rather these midwives perform c-sections in hopes of saving thousands of women’s lives. I applaud Emilia and her colleagues as well as PBS for following this story. Iyesha – I so agree about the generator and the gloves. Some Americans (not all) take for granted that advanced technology is a right. As we can see, in Mozambique, it is not. Wilma Morris – it would be nice to have Mrs. Cumbane’s mailing address.

  • Chiara Carcianiga

    For those who are interested in supporting the work of these young nurses, here are their contacts: or

    I worked with some of the nurses in Emilia’s course in 2001-2002 and I can only confirm that their efforts deserve all the support we can give to them.

    Emilia is not an exception. Other students in her group had to endure the same or even greater challenges.

    Please, help in any way you can, either with bursaries, or with materials for their work and safety.

  • Baby Catchr

    2 words: BIRTH CONTROL. Save the money spent on prenatal care and childbirth and provide contraception instead. Lives and $$ saved.

  • Baby Catchr

    In response to the doctor who said American women are not appreciate of medical advances in childbirth: The U.S. has the highest neonatal mortality rate of any of the developed countries. A large percentage of cesareans and the interventions performed in the U.S. are unnecessary. Start aiming for safety of mother and child rather than medical convenience. Routine electronic fetal monitoring is for liability protection and has not been shown to improve outcome. It is for convenience so that nurses and doctors don’t have to be in the room with the mother. At a homebirth, a mother would never be left unattended. Breaking the bag of waters puts the baby at risk for infection and distress. IVs dilute chemicals in the blood and slow labor and reduce oxygen supply.

  • Lisbeth Laursen, Denmark

    To: Baby Catchr

    Hi there!
    I lived in southern Africa for a couple of years and for a little while I worked as a volunteer for Red Cross assisting in an ambulance transporting pregnant women in labour and with expected complications from their rural home-area to the hospital about 200 km away. My experiences there were a great eyeopener in many ways and I feel I must bring your attention to the fact that birth controle is not the only answer – I wish it was – but unfortunately having many children is still important for cultural and sometimes practical reasons. Before my stay in Africa my opinion was = your’s. I now believe we must help these pregnant women the best way possible and not judge them as they are a result of the believes in their culture. Education and better possibilities for decent jobs – the West could just start out by paying a bit more for the products the undeveloped countries produce and sell. Moreover we could make a lot of difference by collecting and sending useable “leftovers” (not just any old stuff!)such as educational books, overhead projectors, medical equipment etc. Of course I´d rather we could supply/donate all new stuff but I do not think that is going to happen (…seing that our goverments have too many wars and therefor military equipment to finance …)

    One thing we could do – and which I hope it is possible to find a way to do via the link kindly provided by Chiara – is make sure that immediate donation of gloves and generatores find the way to these amazing people!

    All the best for 2010 – friendship, good health and enough of all the things you need to feel happy …


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