I never experienced the uncertainty or fear that so many women in Africa feel during pregnancy.
After a week in Nigeria meeting our exceptionally thoughtful and knowledgeable staff, I traveled to Monrovia. Shortly after arriving I ventured deep into the field with our Liberia Country Director Ernest Gaie to visit several Maternal Waiting Homes (MWHs) that Africare has established in collaboration with multiple public and private partners. My visits to the Karnplay, Phebe and Handii Homes confirmed my belief that MWHs are absolutely critical to reducing maternal mortality, improving infant survival, and helping build healthier families that make for more sustainable, stronger communities. More importantly, visiting each of the MWHs in person reinforced my understanding that the Homes are truly an innovative, cost effective way of improving the conditions under which mothers give birth.
As a mother of three, I sympathize with African mothers who lack access to medical facilities, pre and post-natal care, and the help of a trained medical professional during the delivery of their baby, but I never experienced the uncertainty or fear that so many women in Africa feel during pregnancy. As my understanding of the typical birth experience in Sub-Saharan Africa has grown, so too has my concern over Africa’s exceedingly high maternal mortality rate in childbirth, which is the highest in the world. Eight hundred women around the world die every day giving birth, and more than half of them, about 440, are from Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet virtually all the reasons behind the high mortality statistics are relatively simple to address. In basic terms, it is difficult for expectant mothers to access health care facilities where they can receive high quality care from a skilled birth attendant.
In many parts of Africa, especially in very rural parts like where Africare MWHs are located, mothers to be (also known as “Big Bellies” in Liberia) often must walk several days to access care. MWHs are places adjacent to health facilities where mothers can stay and rest after making the long journey weeks in advance of labor, and when mothers get to a MWH, they can be assured of having trained assistance with the birth of their baby. Mothers make these long treks to improve their odds and their child’s odds of surviving the birthing process, and as word of Africare MWHs spreads through communities, more mothers are learning they can entrust themselves and their newborns to the protection these facilities and staff provide.
Because women can go to a MWH days or weeks before they deliver and remain for similar stints post-delivery, MWHs are viewed as a safe haven where mothers are valued and cared for. Pre and post-natal care is paramount, and delivering healthy babies and ensuring mothers stay healthy too are the ultimate goals. During the visits I made to Homes in Liberia, I met the mothers currently residing at each, and what always stood out was how happy the mothers were to be at the Maternal Waiting Home.
This post is Part 2 of a four-part series detailing Kendra Davenport‘s recent visit to Nigeria and Liberia. Read Part 1 here, and learn about the Trained Traditional Midwives who are so crucial to MWH success and sustainability in Part 3. To support Africare’s development programs, including our MWH network, click here to give now.