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Pregnant Women in Africa Face Risky Childbirth

African countries have some of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world. Lack of hospitals, lack of road access and transportation and lack of trained medical personnel are all reasons cited by health officials for why so many African women die in childbirth. In Liberia, a recent government study found that more than 900 out of every 100,000 women die due to pregnancy complications. Kari Barber reports from Bensonville, Liberia, on what is being done to reduce the mortality rate.

Mary Moses arrives at the Bensonville clinic for a prenatal checkup. A medically trained midwife listens to her stomach. This will be Moses' fourth child. She walked more than three hours to get here. "I walk, but now my back is giving me a hard time, so the nurses say I should not walk that distance," she said.

Moses says a vehicle is supposed to pass between her village and the clinic once a day, but it does not come every day.

In Liberia, most women do not give birth at clinics. Instead they deliver their babies at home with the help of local women.

Minister of Health Walter Gwenigale says there are not enough medically trained midwives, especially in rural areas.

"Midwives we need to have like 1,400, we have less than 300, I think. So it is a very big problem. Our maternal death rate has gone from 500 for every 100,000 to almost a thousand for every 100,000. It is obvious that the women who are delivering are not delivering into safe hands," Gwenigale said.

To change this, traditional midwives - like Tinapu Toby - are being given basic medical training. Toby says she wishes she had learned these skills sooner so she could have saved her 20-year-old daughter and her unborn baby.

Toby explains."It happened to me, my own daughter. I brought her to the hospital, but it was too late and the baby and her died," she said.

The training is starting small, in just a few counties, health workers say they hope to see it spread. The midwives are volunteers who say they are tired of seeing their daughters and neighbors die.

Health workers say while having more medical professionals would be a better solution, training traditional midwives has proven to save lives.

Moses says when her baby comes she hopes she can find a ride to the clinic, but, she says, she knows the chances of that are slim.