Founder, Eritrean Women’s Project

Dr. Mary Lake Polan has drastically improved maternal health services in Eritrea, a small country on the eastern coast of Africa.

Dr. Polan founded the Eritrean Women’s Project in 2002 when she served as Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Americans for UNFPA is a partner and  iscal sponsor for the project, which deploys teams of surgeons twice a year for a two-week intensive to train Eritrean medical professionals in the repair of obstetric fistulas and emergency obstetric care.

“What has made this successful is not only the physicians from Stanford, but doctors and nurses from all over the country, residents and students,” says Dr. Polan. “We also benefit tremendously from the cooperation of the Ministry of Health in Eritrea and UNFPA.”

Nearly half of all Eritreans live far from cities and hospital care. Poor transportation and communication infrastructure in outlying areas result in 80% of deliveries occurring without a physician or trained midwife. The risk of birth trauma is great with a high incidence of obstructed labor, making obstetric fistulas common.

Dr. Polan’s success in Eritrea has increased local maternal health capacity through support and training of local medical professionals in medical and educational institutions. Current plans include construction of a maternity waiting home for women anticipating surgical repair and those whose pregnancies require ready access to emergency care.

Americans for UNFPA is honored to present this award to Dr. Mary Lake Polan and all the participants in the Eritrean Women’s Project for their enthusiastic partnership with Eritreans as they create an infrastructure to support maternal health.