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Mothers in Liberia Face High Risks During Pregnancy

As the world marks international women's day, health workers in Liberia are expressing concern about statistics on the deadly risks faced by pregnant women. A recent government study shows that more than 900 out of every 100,000 women die in childbirth. Kari Barber has a report from Bensonville, Liberia, on what is being done to slow the deadly trend.

A maternal health worker at the Bensonville district clinic shows the room where mothers are monitored following delivery. Most women in Liberia deliver their babies at home. After delivery, some come to hospitals or clinics like this one to have their babies, and themselves, examined.

Mary Moses walks three-and-a-half hours to this, the nearest clinic, for a prenatal checkup. But now, only weeks before her due date, she says she will not be able to make the walk anymore.

"I walk, but my back is now giving me a hard time so I cannot walk this distance," she said.

The lack of roads, public transportation, clinics, and a dearth of professionals trained in obstetrics are all reasons, officials say, that so many women die in childbirth in Liberia.

The health system and infrastructure are still devastated following the civil war that ended in 2003.

Health Minister Walter Gwenigale says the government and aid agencies are focusing their limited resources on recruiting and training midwives, who frequently oversee pregnancies when there is no medical professional.

"We need to have about 1,400 [midwives]," he said. "We have less than 300. So it is a very big problem, and it tells you that when you look at the statistics, it tells you why we need people to do this work. It is obvious that the women who are delivering are not delivering into safe hands."

Tinapu Toby is one of those midwives who is being trained.

She says she is learning how to handle complications of pregnancy. She says she wishes she had learned earlier.

Two years ago, she was helping her daughter give birth. There were complications, and her daughter died.

She says she carried her daughter to the hospital, but it was too late.

Toby says the baby also died.

Liberia has one of the worst maternal death rates in the world. Health workers say while midwife training will likely help, it could take years before maternal health really improves.