Last week, on May 14th 2017, my organization, Rescue Women – Cameroon (REWOCAM) set out to train Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) in proper delivery techniques, identification of danger signs, and referral systems in a rural community called Toko, in South West Cameroon.
Going to Toko from Bamenda usually takes us two days of travel. But going there usually fills our hearts with joy because we know for sure that we are empowering women and girls who are locked up from mainstream development. Toko is a sub-division with 49 villages under it. There is no kilometer of tarred road; going to some of the villages requires trekking long hours of up to 34 hours (to and fro). There is no Cameroon TV or radio signal; most people capture signals from neighboring Nigeria. There is no telephone signal, talk-less of an internet access. There is no electricity, no proper water management system.
Training eight (8) traditional birth attendants from 8 distant villages from Toko brought together 8 women whose naïve experiences on maternal health issues needed to be upgraded. They came with different interesting, yet sad stories of how they view deliveries and the realities on the ground of their practice. Tears rolled and anxiety climaxed as we listened to them. The medical doctor and chief nurse of the Toko Integrated Health Center who facilitated the training could not wait to change the women’s mindsets and equip them with proper skills and beliefs as they listened to them talk.
It should be noted, that every day, 20 Cameroonian women die of pregnancy-related causes, according to a 2014 press release from UNFPA Cameroon, the national office of the U.N. population fund. Using 1990 as a baseline, the fifth MDG goal called on all U.N. member countries to reduce their maternal mortality rates by 75 percent by 2015. Other countries made strides toward achieving that goal. Equatorial Guinea, to Cameroon’s south, met its goal by 2010. Worldwide, maternal mortality rates came down by about 45 percent between 1990 and 2013, according a 2014 report produced jointly by the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the United Nations. However, Cameroon only brought its maternal mortality rate down from an estimated 720 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to an estimated 590 per 100,000 live births in 2013 – a decrease of just 18 percent. And while some Cameroonian women face a much a lower mortality rate – 350 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, depending on their risk factors – some women face a maternal mortality rate of 1,000 per 100,000 live births. That’s higher than sub-Saharan Africa’s overall range of 380 to 730 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
The situation in rural communities like villages in Toko sub division is worse, as TBAs are practicing based on aged old traditional practices and beliefs. Holding strong to these beliefs puts the lives of pregnant women and their babies at risk on a daily basis. Talking to the 8 TBAs, they revealed sad realities about their practices. They said:
- Immediately they deliver a baby, they bathe the baby with cold water from the streams, cold enough to make the baby adapt to his/her new world.
- They deliver women with their bare hands. Using protective gloves has never been an option because they don’t even know about it.
- They cut babies cords with kitchen knives or old blades depending on which one is available.
- They beat women who are experiencing difficult deliveries because they believe the beating will force them to push out their babies quickly.
- They equally beat women whose babies come out in strange ways like with legs, buttocks, shoulders, because they believe such women are witches and so must be beaten to force them not to kill their babies
- They use little canes/sticks to beat babies who come out without crying to make them feel pain and cry
- They equally warm new borns who don’t cry on fire to force them to cry
- They use very hot water to force-heal the wounds of tear during delivery; there is usually no stitching whatsoever.
- They tie the belly of the mother very tight with a loin cloth to force her tommy to go back in after delivery
The TBAs revealed a lot of things that sent shock waves to all of us sitting in the workshop hall, but there was no call for panic, as the objective of the workshop was to change their mindsets and equip them with skills. Without waste of time, the medical doctor drilled them on so many issues including
- Hand washing technique before delivery
- Gloves wearing to prevent disease transmission
- Identification of danger signs
- Importance of referral
- Importance of attending ANC
- Importance of hospital births
- And more
The TBAs, left the training satisfied. They confessed that they had learned a lot of things they didn’t know were harmful to mothers, children and themselves as TBAs. They promised to practice in a more modern way and throw away stereotypes that put the lives of mothers and newborns at risk.
Rescue Women – Cameroon is determined to help cut down the figures on maternal deaths in Cameroon which is on constantly the rise.
How to Get Involved
Help us reach all the 49 villages in Toko Sub Division of Cameroon