News

    Family Participation Key to Improved Maternal and Child Health, say Health Experts

    UNICEF says Sierra Leone leads the world in maternal mortality, with 2,100 deaths for every 100,000 births
    UNICEF says Sierra Leone leads the world in maternal mortality, with 2,100 deaths for every 100,000 births

    Families and communities have a large impact on the decisions that women make about their health.  Pressure to conform to expectations or traditions can lead women to make poor choices, like rejecting family planning and contraception.  But some communities and families are working together to help women to make smart decisions and gain access to vital resources.

    "It's seen as insubordination"

    According to the United Nations Childrens’ Fund (UNICEF), many Sierra Leoneans, especially in rural areas, don’t decide on the size of their family ahead of time. The agency says up to one third of all maternal deaths and injuries could be prevented if women used contraceptives to space births or prevent pregnacy.  Greater spacing between births allows a woman to recover from delivery and restore nutrients needed for a healthy baby.

    A 2008 demographic and health survey by the group Statistics Sierra Leone indicated that only five to eight percent of women use contraceptives, although they are legal and available at most pharmacies.

    <!-- IMAGE -->

    A report released last year by Amnesty International, Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone found several reasons for the failure to plan ahead.

    It found that for families struggling to feed themselves, contraception is not a priority. Also, women in Sierra Leone do not have much say in the size of the family or the spacing between pregnancies.

    A single woman is subordinate to her brother and father – a married woman to her husband, who makes family decisions, according to the Amnesty study. “A woman’s social standing depends on her role as a mother, and it increases as she has more children.”

    The report also found that many women rejected family planning, including birth spacing, out of fear of being abandoned or rejected by their relatives.

    If a woman delays sex after childbirth, she insults her husband, says Brima Abdulai Sheriff, the director of Amnesty International in Sierra Leone.

    “It’s seen as insubordination,” he says. “The family of the wife [can be] fined to pay [the husband] rice, palm oil, goat or sheep. Woman will be asked to publicly apologize or explain if she’s feeling sick. Even educated women here cannot refuse their husbands.”

    The problems with family planning and poor maternal health are also due a lack of public awareness.

    <!-- IMAGE -->

    “The community has to be involved and that is paramount, and once you have the community, the family, the health facility and the health worker all working together, then you will have a perfect health system,” says Freetown private medical practitioner Dr. Donald Bash-Taki.

    Things are beginning to improve.

    Dr. Ibrahim Thorlie, a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist with the Princess Maternity Hospital in Freetown’s East End neighborhood, says recent government reforms provide free health care for pregnant and lactating women. The government is also training more midwives and working to make more clinics available in rural areas that can provide pre-natal care.

    Mobilizing families and communities

    Everyone, including men, must get involved in ensuring good maternal health, says Thorlie.

    “Every individual must play his or her own role. They should know when to go to the hospital when their wives, daughters or relatives are pregnant. If every family knows what to do and [where to go], that should be a way of reducing infant and maternal mortality.”

    To encourage family planning, experts recommend social mobilization and awareness-raising campaigns, including dramas and broadcasts about the importance of pre-natal care and assisted delivery.

    Amnesty International Director Brima Abdulai Sheriff says his organization uses theatre and other methods to appeal to men to help guarantee a safe pregnancy. It’s part of their role as leaders in the family, says Sheriff. “They’re responsible for the pregnancy,” he adds, “and [a man’s] children carry his surname.”

    Traditional leaders are also getting involved.

    Sheriff says some now instruct young women to seek pre-natal care at the nearest clinic.

    <!-- IMAGE -->

    Among these leaders are “Mammy Queens,” he says,“wives to the chiefs or wives of local traditional leaders or [they are] elders of the community who wield a lot of power and have control over women. They may also have relationships with [traditional birth attendants] or local government authorities. So when they take decisions …they are respected within the community.”

    He says poor women are [more likely to follow] customary practices and resolutions taken in the communities. They are afraid to go against the law. Abdulai says women in some communities contribute to a common fund to provide for transportation or other needs of pregnant women.

    The effort to get families and communities involved in maternal care is beginning to pay off, says Thorlie. That joint effort, combined with the removal of health care fees for pregnant and lactating women, is leading to a decrease in maternal and child mortality rates.

    This is part 10 of our 15 part series, A Healthy Start: On the Frontlines of Maternal and Infant Care in Africa

    « Prev: Fistula and Birth Injuries Series Index Next: Breastfeeding »
    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora