Hope for New Mothers in Sierra Leone
by Michelle Scott
Fort Worth, TX, April 28, 2008—"At the time of civil war, the hospital was seeing three patients a day," said Janet Bio, head midwife at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone. "But I started bringing pregnant women to the hospital—just a few at a time."Twelve years later, 400 women come each week to see "Sister Bio" for prenatal treatment.
She addressed The United Methodist Church's top legislative body as part of The Advance's 60th anniversary celebration. Kissy Hospital is just one of thousands of programs around the world that receive support through this designated giving arm of the denomination.
Hundreds Helped at Prenatal ClinicsIt's Friday morning at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and every available space is taken up by pregnant women waiting to register for the prenatal clinic. Every Wednesday and Friday, women line up by the hundreds to attend the clinic.
They check in during the morning hours, and then around noon they gather in the outpatient building for the day's lesson. It starts off with singing and prayer led by one of the nurses. Bio then begins the day's health talk. On this day she's teaching the women how to tell if they need to come to the hospital.
Most of the women will give birth at home with traditional birth attendants, so knowing when to go to the hospital could save their lives. The lesson is punctuated with humor, more singing, and dancing. On other days they'll learn about malaria, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and other topics.
Afterwards Bio examines each woman to track how she's progressing. She works in a small room that has a door at one end, two examining tables taking up the second and third walls, and a desk along the fourth wall.
While Bio examines one woman, another is being prepared on the second table; Bio has no down time between the patients. It is a tightly choreographed procedure in which Bio palpates the woman's growing belly, announces the number of weeks, listens to the heartbeat with the fetoscope, and occasionally pauses to explain to a woman that her baby is breach and she should deliver at the hospital.
On this particular afternoon Bio will see 200 women.
5,000 BabiesIn the nearly 12 years that Bio has been at Kissy Hospital, she's delivered more than 5,000 babies, every one carefully recorded in a stack of books along one wall in the maternity ward. The first woman to enter into Bio's care was her own sister, followed by a woman who had twins.
Bio, the only one to diagnose twins, helped the woman deliver safely. The women who come to the prenatal clinic all say they come because "the sister is good." Some found out about Bio through friends or family. Some heard about her on the public bus. People come from far beyond Kissy Hospital's neighborhood to be under her care.
Bio also works with the traditional birth attendants. These women hold a traditional office in their village and may or may not have any specific medical training. Teaching these women to use clean gloves andhow to know when a woman needs to come to the hospital saves lives. Reaching the traditional birth attendants is critical in Sierra Leone, a country with the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
Community OutreachPrenatal clinics and traditional-birth-attendant training not only happens at Kissy Hospitalin the capital city of Freetown—it's a focus at all seven of Kissy's related clinics throughout Sierra Leone.
At the Tiama clinic, in a particularly remote area, Nurse Christiana talks about providing cell phones for the traditional birth attendants. Many women die on their way to the clinic for treatment due to lack of transportation and poor roads. Cell phones would enable traditional birth attendants to call the clinic and get immediate instruction for treating the patient on the spot.
Working through community structures such as the network of traditional birth attendants in Sierra Leone helps to involve more people in public health concerns. Providing birth attendants with education and training ensures that women can still give birth in the comfort of their own homes and also be safer in the process.
About Kissy HospitalThe Kissy United Methodist Hospital lies in an impoverished neighborhood on the eastern side of Freetown, Sierra Leone, in West Africa. The country is rebuilding after 10 years of civil war, which destroyed homes and families, shattered electric and sewage systems, and greatly weakened the economy. For the poor in the neighborhood of Kissy, Freetown, Kissy United Methodist Hospital is the only free hospital in the area. Even those who can afford to go to another hospital go to Kissy Hospital because it is known for quality health care.
To support the Kissy United Methodist Hospital through the Hospital Revitalization Program, give to Advance #982168. Checks can be mailed to GPO, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of your check. Visit givetomission.org.
* Michelle Scott is the communications director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).