Sierra Leone Volunteers Save Moms, Babies
By Kay Panovec*
Christiana Tommy is on a mission to reduce maternal and infant deaths in her community.
Childbirth is never easy, especially in Sierra Leone, where the maternal and child mortality rates among the highest in the world. The West African country has the highest under-5 mortality rate, with almost one in three children dying before age 5, according to the World Health Organization.
In 19 years, Tommy has seen more than her share of maternal and infant death. Trained at the National School of Nursing in Freetown, she received additional education in community-based health care in India but returned to Sierra Leone to serve the people there.
At the Taiama Health Center in the Moyamba District, Tommy helps expectant mothers deal with often significant problems.
“We face many challenges here,” she said. “Malaria and HIV/AIDS can cause premature birth and, in some cases, death for both the mother and child. Complications such as hemorrhage also occur.”
Birth Attendants Help
When a woman is unable to deliver her child in her home, she is transferred by hammock or wheelbarrow to the health center. Modern means of transportation are not easily accessible or affordable to the poor.
The most helpful addition to the health clinic is the traditional birth attendants, or TBAs. “Now, with the TBAs, we are able to help more mothers, more infants,” Tommy said proudly.
Forty such attendants were trained through a United Methodist health board, which receives support through the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health. Attendants volunteer their time in assisting pregnant women by sharing basic health and nutrition information to increase the probability of a healthy pregnancy.
Each of the traditional birth attendants has received a cell phone for staying in contact with the health center and the other attendants. The attendants also identify women who are at high risk. Once they have been identified, they receive follow-up treatment that may lead to admission at the United Methodist Hospital in Kissy.
Following the birth of a child, the birth attendant visits the new mother and advises her on basic baby care, sanitation information, proper breast-feeding techniques and the importance of childhood immunizations. As part of a leadership succession program, each of the attendants recruits a younger woman who will also be trained and assigned to her particular village.
‘Cannot Do This on Our Own’
The United Methodist Church is working to improve the survival rate of children throughout Africa through the Imagine No Malaria Campaign. The disease kills a child under 5 in Africa every 45 seconds.
Although Tommy is hopeful, she cannot escape the reality that there is more need than money to provide resources. “With God’s help, we will continue to help the women and infants of our villages,” she said
“We cannot do this work on our own,” she said. “We pray for the patients and nurses. We ask God to assist us.”
*Panovec is executive director of new media at United Methodist Communications.