Pregnant IDPs At Mercy Of Local Birth Attendants

Pregnant IDPs At Mercy Of Local Birth Attendants
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Many pregnant women in the country die due to complications from childbirth. Most times, these complications would have been detected if they had gone for antenatal. CHIKA MEFOR-NWACHUKWU writes on how poverty, caused by the COVID-19 lockdown has left internally displaced persons at the mercy of local birth attendants.

“I didn’t have money to go to the hospital during pregnancy. I ended up losing my baby.” These were the heart breaking words of Fatima Bala, an Internally Displaced Person, IDPs, living in Tudun Munstira in Karmajiji, a community along Airport Road in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Fatima was a few months along when the COVID-19 lockdown was ordered by the federal government. At that period, her husband who was a commercial motorcycle rider could not bring money home as passengers were at home due to the lockdown.  Her pregnancy was a complicated one. She was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, diabetes identified for the first time during pregnancy (gestation).

Fatima who was visibly in pain, as she narrated her story, stated that she was unable to visit the hospital, because of lack of money. Her baby ended up being stillborn. When labour started, she revealed that she was taken to a government hospital in Kuchingoro but because the Resident doctors were on strike then, she was referred to a private hospital.

“No one was able to save my baby. Due to the diabetes, the baby was large,” she lamented as she displayed the picture of the baby that could pass up for a nine- months-old baby from her phone. The baby would have been her seventh child.

She added that she needed injections to treat the diabetes but could not afford them; “I could not afford the injections. I am presently on drugs. But I am feeling pains all over my body, especially my waist.”

She further stated that if there were no complications in her pregnancy, she would have given birth with the local birth attendant who had handled many of the pregnancy cases in the area.

Fatima who is one of the IDPs that fled their homes in Gwoza, Borno State after Boko Haram attacked their town in 2014, revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic worsened their conditions as their means of livelihood was cut short adding that they were just living one day at a time, hoping that they will be able to return to their ancestral home soon.

“We came here because of Boko Haram. This place was bushy and we didn’t know the land owner but we settled here. We don’t know our fate here but we are just living and hoping that we will not be evicted”, she said.

Corroborating her story, Khadijat Abubakar, a 27-year-old mother of five, said their major needs were food and healthcare. She said the closest primary healthcare centre to them was not functional and the next closest hospital was in Kuchingoro, which is a bit far from Karon-Majiji where she resides.

“We don’t have a good primary health care center here. When my children and I fall sick, I buy small drugs from the ‘Chemist shop’ in my area,” she said.

Khadijat lamented that due to lack of money, worsened by the COVID-19 lockdown, she had to give birth to her child at the home of a local birth attendant in the Angwan Gwuragu area.

“I didn’t go to the hospital because I didn’t have money. This is because since the lockdown there are no menial jobs to do and my husband who is doing Okada business could not really work as he used to. It has been God helping us,” she said.

She revealed that the women in the camp go to the local birth attendant to deliver their adding that no one goes for antennal due to lack of money.

Khajidat further stated that though the birth attendant’s home was not safe for birth, the women had no other option as they paid less money than they would have paid in the hospital.

Narrating how she gave birth to her child, Khadijat stated: “When she (the birth attendant) gave me something in a drip, my baby immediately began to turn and in a few minutes I gave birth. Women who give birth successfully pay her N5,000 but if the baby dies she doesn’t collect money.

“I don’t know where she learnt her job. Her place is not safe. I don’t know the kind of medicine she put in the drip she gave me because my fifth child was my first experience with her. I went to her because it was during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

“Women and children are dying at the local birth attendant place while giving birth and this is scary. So many women are scared but lack of money makes them keep trying their luck. I was lucky to give birth successfully but I was also scared.”

Responding to question on why they take the risk of patronising a local birth attendant even when they have recorded deaths, Khadijat said, “The primary health centre collects N8,000 for delivery but when you go there they will give you a list of things to buy which will cost over N10,000 and we don’t have over N20,000 to pay. That is why we go to Angwan Gwuragu.”

Khadijat ponders the type of future she will leave for her children if she could not even afford a proper feeding for them. The 27-year-old mother, whose first child will soon turn nine years, revealed that she was married off by her parents immediately she turned 18 adding that she had regrets not going to school and being properly educated.

The 27-year-old lamented that if she had been properly educated, she would have had a better life and improved standard of living, adding that life has been so difficult for her family and her.

According to her, her parents married her off early because they were poor and could not afford to train her in school.

“School is very important in every woman’s life because life is not easy right now. If I was educated, I would have helped my children better.  Look at me I’m just 27-years-old and I have five children already because all our husbands want is children,” she said.

Khajidat who had graduated from secondary school before she got married, however stated that she was working very hard to change the education status of children in the camp with her little knowledge. She had taken it upon herself to teach children at the camp for a little fee of N50 per child, just to ensure the children have an education.

“My first child is nine while my baby is seven months but their education gives me concern and that is why I teach them and so other parents encourage me to start lessons to teach their children to read and write and they pay N50 daily per child.

“I teach them English, Maths, Social studies, Home economics, Literature and other subjects, due to how they children were enjoying the learning the Chairman of the camp built us a small classroom and I hope to do better with the job,” she said.

“Boko Haram doesn’t believe in education. They say it is Haram but they speak the English language. It doesn’t add up at all. I really want to go back to Goza because it’s not easy here but I hear Boko Haram is still killing people.

Many of the women in the camp who spoke with AljazirahNigeria revealed how shocked they were to encounter terrible situations after coming to the capital city, a place they thought help would come easily.

 One of these women,  Ramatu Adamu, also from Goza in Borno State, said that the lack of easy access to a health facility is the least she had expected living in Abuja, the nation’s capital where she believed there should be amenities.

 “The IDPs in Borno State are well catered for. Here, we don’t have easy access to hospitals. Yet we live in the same city where President Mohammed Buhari lives,” she said.

Narrating how she came to Abuja, Ramatu said; “I ran to Abuja because Boko Haram was killing people. I really want to go back home if the government can help restore peace to my village because life here is very difficult especially when it comes to access to health.”

Every day, many women die in Nigeria due to complications from childbirth. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) between 2005 and 2015, over 600,000 maternity deaths and no less than 900,000 maternity near-miss cases have occurred in Nigeria. These cases are mostly cases which would have been avoided if the governments have been doing their bit in providing the necessary health services not just for pregnant women but the family in general.

These IDPs are mostly calling for help from the government to ensure that their land is safe for them to return to. “At least there, we have our lands to cultivate in. We will survive better there. As we try to survive here though, we need access to health so that our women cannot depend mostly on traditional birth attendance. When there are complications, we fear for our women and children,” Abubakar Ibrahim, another IDP in the camp stated.


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Fatima BalaInternal displaced persons