Towards a “0 maternal deaths” goal

One of the most interesting things about Faces2Hearts journey is that everyday I get to see projects that are changing people’s lives in different aspects. It is always good to hear about the success of a project through numbers and statistics, but it becomes even more real on a personal level, when I hear beneficiaries whose lives were made better in one way or another due to a project.

Today, thousands of mothers still lose their lives while giving birth. This is even more critical in sub-Saharan Africa. In Bafata and Gabu (North region of Guinea Bissau), due to factors like poverty, lack of infrastructure and cultural beliefs, it’s not an easy thing to get required medical care for a pregnant woman or a baby.

PIMI (Programme Intégré de santé Maternelle et Infatile) is a child and maternal health program, funded by the European Union, in which 3 organizations, UNICEF (through PLAN-International), EMI (Entraide Médicale Internationale) and IMVF (Instituto Marques de Vallle Flor), partner to make it a reality. PIMI has a goal of reducing maternal and infantile mortality, by providing quality and ease of access to health care to pregnant women and children between 0 to 5 years old. With PIMI, pregnant women in Gabu and Bafata are able to get medical care and a number of medications for free at any health centre. This is the same at any health centre all over Guinea Bissau, thanks to PIMI.

“Since PIMI started, our work has gotten a lot easier and more effective. The training that our personnel get regularly ensures the quality of medical care we offer to pregnant women, and the fact that they now can receive all services and a number of medications for free, has increased the number of women who come to seek medical care here which has thus led to a decrease of child and maternal deaths, as we are able to anticipate pregnancy complications and treat diseases that women are vulnerable to during that period such as Malaria, Diarrhea,..” Says Jose Vaz, a head nurse at Bafata.

Jose Vaz, head nurse at Bafata

According to the statistics collected from the start of the project, at 39 health centres in Bafata and Gabu, the number of deaths of pregnant women went from 49 in 2015 to 19 in 2017, and 8% of infantile deaths to 6% in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

“It is my first baby, and I am very happy now. I didn’t have to pay anything at all for my consultation and the delivery. In my village, my neighbours also understand the benefits of getting medical attention from early pregnancy to delievery right here at the centre, since they are aware that they won’t have to pay anything.” Says Aminata

Aminata with her baby

For her first pregnancy consultation, Aminata was encouraged by her neighbour who is a community health agents. These are volunteers recruited and trained by PIMI, and one of their missions is to sensitise pregnant women to seeking for medical attention at an early stage of their pregnancy.

Challenges like lack of infrastructure are still faced by both the beneficiaries and health centres. Apart from that, due to cultural beliefs in this area, for example, women are required to keep their pregnancy a secret as long as possible (because they believe it protects their babies from harm that might come from out of the family). This prevents them from seeking medical attention on time. Community health agents are playing a key role in changing such beliefs.

Tino Tchuda, one of the community health agents in Bafata

There is still a long way to go in this region to eradicate maternal deaths and ensure all infants are given a tangible chance to grow up healthy. But the fact that the community benefits from this program and understands its need for it is promising, and of course ensuring a good health for pregnant women and newborns is one way of building a healthier community for tomorrow.

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