Liberia: Bong County Maternal Mortality Crisis – Why Expectant Mothers are Dying
Gbarnla, Bong County – Meatta Browne had heard plenty of horror stories about women dying of post-partum bleeding while giving birth at home. But when she became pregnant with her first child, she discovered that a hospital birth was simply out of reach.
In addition to a L$500 registration fee, the local clinic required that she bring her own sanitary pads, bed sheets and gloves for the nurses and newborn clothes. All those would add up to L$2500. If she was transferred to a higher-level hospital in case of an emergency, she would have to pay at least L$4,000 more. A blood transfusion, if needed, would cost her L$3,000 per unit.
Most residents in this rural Gbarnla Town, Yellequelleh District – one hour’s drive on a dusty dirt road from Phebe – don’t even have one dollar to spare, because most rely on subsistence farming. “I had no cash to go to the clinic,” recalled Browne, 30. “It was emotionally very painful for me.”
Gbarnla, a town with a population of over four thousand inhabitants, is one of several communities in Bong County people trek to for health care delivery.
Other women gave birth within five to six miles away from the town. But in the case of one Cynthia, 29, she journeyed for about 10 miles from her abode to give birth. It was the same story of discomfort during child delivery. She stated that she registered for antenatal at the clinic at Gbarnla.
Cynthia said the day she gave birth was a traumatic experience for her. She said, “We moved for about four hours to Gbarnla to be delivered of my first child. I went into labour at midnight and there was no other means of transportation than to trek. I was tired and crying as we walked.”
She added, “Pregnancy period is usually stressful for women in the Gbondua. Labour isn’t an easy task, so compounding it with the trauma of looking for a hospital is not what anyone should go through.”
Pregnant women trek miles to hospital
Exactly 15 minutes past 10pm, pregnant Elizabeth Flomo started feeling severe pain. It was her first pregnancy, but she knew her expected date delivery had come. She recalled the day with mixed feelings.
“Being pregnant in this community is a dangerous thing,” she told our correspondent during a visit to Gbarnga Siaquelleh Town in Panta District. “Beyond the pain we go through to attend antenatal sessions, delivery can be worse, especially at night. The trauma I faced on the day I had my child was something I wouldn’t pray for anyone to experience.”
In the town, our correspondent gathered that the available means of transportation is motorcycles and when pregnant women are in labour, the only way to get to the hospital is to endure a bumpy ride.
She added, “Thankfully, one of the women who regularly came to pray with me was still around when I went into labour. In the town, the major means of transportation is motorcycle. The roads are bad.
“When I went into labour, the only means of taking me to the clinic was through a motorcycle. Before they could get a motorcycle, I was walking because it’s a long journey. My husband and the woman met me on the way and I mounted the bike with my husband.
“We hadn’t gone half-way when labour pain gripped me hard. My husband begged me to endure till we got to a safe place but I couldn’t. He stopped the motorcycle and in that darkness.”
Elizabeth said she wouldn’t forget what she went through during the pregnancy. She stated, “I fell sick several times and the closest clinic was at Foequelleh which is about six miles away. I could have lost my child because there were a few complications, but the doctors intervened.”
Lack of a functional clinic or hospital and bad roads made life tough for pregnant women in several parts of Bong County.
Women in rural communities like the Gbarnga Siaquelleh and its environs are prone to maternal mortality due to lack of access to primary health care centers, maternal clinics and medical experts.
Residents in some towns and villages in the county battle poor amenities and infrastructure that should make life easy for them.
Elizabeth and other mothers in the town lamented the health risk they endured, adding that there were others who did not attend antenatal sessions because of the distance and cost of transportation.
She added, “Pregnancy for women in the town is usually a risk; it’s a period of uncertainties for us especially because of the problems we are faced with. Due to the lack of access to health care facilities, many of our pregnant women now patronise local drug sellers who offer antenatal care, while some abandon antenatal sessions and only wait for delivery day.
Medical experts have linked maternal and neonatal mortality in Liberia to delay in seeking health care, locating and arriving at a medical facility early and in receiving pregnancy care.
Martha Peabody is a resident of Foequelleh Town who was recently delivered of a baby boy. It was exactly the day of the baby’s christening when our correspondent visited the town.
The new mom lamented that the time of her pregnancy was not a smooth one.
Peabody said, “On the day of the delivery, I was earlier at Foequelleh but was told that it wasn’t time yet after I was examined. My husband had to seek the help of his friend in town for everything to go smoothly.
“The period of the pregnancy wasn’t easy. Sometimes, I would have trekked for over an hour or an hour before getting to Foequelleh.
“Whenever it rained, I wouldn’t bother going to the clinic because the road would not be motorable and the fare would increase. One of the toughest things is to be pregnant in the town but I am glad I was able to put to bed safely.”
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Front Page Africa