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Helping women in Sierra Leone deliver their babies safely

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More women are surviving childbirth in Sierra Leone thanks in large part to help received from Bermuda. According to vesting midwife Isha Daramy, one in six women in her native Sierra Leone were dying in childbirth in the 1980s. The high number alarmed her and motivated her to spend a year in one district training traditional birth attendants so that they were better equipped to help deliver babies.

In 1990 she trained a total of 41 village women in two six-month courses. But civil war broke out in 1991 causing many people to flee the area (she went to England). The war ended in 2002 and only 20 of the women she trained remained.

“Many had died,” she said.

Ms Daramy’s husband was also killed in the war and she said she vowed never to return to her country.

But she did return and on seeing there was still a pressing need to help pregnant mothers, she decided to try and help again.

At about the same time, thousands of miles away in Bermuda, nurse and douala Fiona Dill learned about Sierra Leone’s high maternal death rate.

“My mother sent me an article from the Observer newspaper in Britain,” said Mrs Dill. “It was about Sierra Leone, which had the highest maternal death rate in the world. I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I’d read it. I felt compelled to press it forward.”

Mrs Dill has a private practice called Great Beginnings (www.greatbeginnings.bm) where she offers douala services and teaches childbirth and parenting classes.

She is passionate about helping women achieve a positive birth experience and feel confident about parenting. She was struck by the stark contrast of the women she was helping locally, with many of those in Sierra Leone.

“These women were grateful to be alive after birth,” she said.

Mrs Dill contacted Ngadi Kamara, a Sierra Leonean who is married to a Bermudian and lives on the Island.

Whether it was by luck, coincidence or some higher intervention, Mrs Kamara was able to put Mrs Dill in contact with her godmother, Ms Daramy.

“When Fiona first contacted me she expressed an interest in training a midwife,” said Ms Daramy. “I explained the traditional birthing attendant concept to her and why I thought it would be better to refresh and train them instead of a single midwife who would not be able to have much impact on the overall problem. It is likely that the midwife would even leave the area altogether.”

Said Mrs Dill: “When she explained it to me, I told her I trusted her judgment and I left how to proceed in her hands.”

In the meantime Mrs Dill set aside ten percent of her earnings from Great Beginnings for the project. Her clients learned of her passion for the project and also began donating.

A $3,000 donation last year enabled 20 birthing attendants to get a refresher course; a further ten were trained. Every single woman that those 30 have guided through childbirth in the Port Loko district, has survived.

“Each birthing assistant delivers between 30 and 50 babies a year,” Ms Daramy said.

But a hiccup in her plans to train more birthing assistants came, as the Sierra Leonan Government called for an end to the use of them.

Under pressure from the World Health Organisation to raise the standard of health care for pregnant women, the Government banned traditional birthing assistants.

“This idea of the Government is flawed,” Ms Daramy said. She explained that traditionally the birthing assistants were not trained and that the Government had instituted a programme where they were trained in three weeks.

“This is definitely not enough time,” she said. “The women I have trained go through a six-month course and are equipped to handle straightforward births and also to refer to hospital those women with complications.”

Following the ban on birthing assistants she turned her attentions to developing a maternity hospital for the region. Mrs Dill was again instrumental in the funding for this project, providing $14,000. (A further $13,000 will soon be sent.)

This money has seen the erection of the Magbil Mother and Child Centre in the same region. It serves 13 villages, anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people.

Pregnant women living far from the main hospital, St John the God, had difficulty receiving assistance in birthing their babies until the centre opened.

According to Ms Daramy the new maternal clinic serves as a place where women can go before they go into labour, especially if problems are expected. It’s also large enough to hold training sessions for midwives and education classes for new mothers.

Although outfitted with modern toilets, there is no running water or electricity.

“I am hoping to put in solar panels for use as an energy source,” Ms Daramy said. “We do have a well, but we need a power source to get the water pumped up.”

Like Mrs Dill, Ms Daramy is passionate about helping women deliver their babies safely. She met Mrs Dill on a recent trip to Bermuda, at which time she conveyed her gratitude for the funding that has been provided. At a small reception she spoke on the challenges she sees in her profession in Sierra Leone, and she detailed her efforts to help.

“I think these measure are working,” she said. “The maternal death rate has dropped from one in six to one in eight, so we are getting better.”

For more information e-mail fionadill[AT]logic.bm or visit www.greatbeginnings.com.

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Published September 06, 2011 at 9:53 am (Updated September 06, 2011 at 9:53 am)

Helping women in Sierra Leone deliver their babies safely

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