Ebola cri­sis: Preg­nant women in Guinea still avoid hos­pi­tal

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Guinea has been free of Ebola since June. But preg­nant women are still afraid of the virus, avoid­ing hos­pi­tal and giv­ing birth alone, writes the BBC's Ta­masin Ford. Ma­manata Soumah told me she didn't once see a mid­wife, a nurse or a doc­tor dur­ing her en­tire preg­nancy and even as she en­tered the third day of ex­cru­ci­at­ing con­trac­tions with­out any pain re­lief, she re­fused to see any­one. I asked her why.

"I was scared of Ebola," she said.

This was back in March. Five months af­ter this area had been de­clared Ebola-free.

"I didn't have the courage to go for check-ups at the clinic be­cause so many peo­ple died there," she said.

Ms. Soumah told me she felt the baby mov­ing in her tummy right up to the end. "The baby just got too tired," she said with a blank look in her eyes.

"It was born dead." She is not the only preg­nant woman who was too scared to go to hos­pi­tal.

More than half a dozen women, cradling tiny ba­bies in their laps, pa­tiently waited out­side the vil­lage chief's hut in Kale­modi­agbe vil­lage to speak to me.

Every­one had a story to tell. One was Ms. Soumah's sis­ter-in-law. M'mah Ca­mara still re­fuses to take her baby to hos­pi­tal to get vac­ci­nated. Like Ms. Soumah, she also spent three days at home in labour, re­fus­ing to visit a doc­tor or a mid­wife.

Un­like Ms Soumah, her baby sur­vived.

She gen­tly tight­ened a green towel around her twom­onth-old baby.

The 27-year-old lost 13 mem­bers of her fam­ily to Ebola, in­clud­ing her hus­band.

Af­ter he died, fol­low­ing lo­cal tra­di­tions, she mar­ried his brother; the fa­ther of her baby. "Dur­ing Ebola peo­ple left to go to the clinic but they never came back. I'm scared to go now in case I don't come back," she said.

It's the same story for the other new moth­ers and preg­nant women in the vil­lage. Even af­ter Ms. Soumah's hor­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, the fear of Ebola seems to out­weigh the fear of any­thing else.

Fa­toumata Ca­mara is seven months preg­nant but has no in­ten­tion of us­ing the health­care sys­tem.

"Since my friend lost her baby, I'm scared of the birth but I don't have the courage to go to the clinic," she told me.

Her own mum, brother and mother-in-law all died of Ebola. "I'm now scared to go to the hos­pi­tal even though my hus­band wants me to go," she said.

Every­one, they say, who left the vil­lage dur­ing the time of Ebola to go to a hos­pi­tal, a clinic or a health post, never re­turned.

In this vil­lage alone, 43 peo­ple died of Ebola.

Kale­modi­agbe is a good two-hour drive from the cap­i­tal Con­akry, and about 5km (3 miles) from the near­est health post, down a bumpy, dusty track.

Some 15km away at the district's main hos­pi­tal in the town of Fore­cariah, there was an eerie si­lence in the court­yard.

Dur­ing the Ebola epi­demic, there was hardly space to move; triage tents oc­cu­pied ev­ery space.

But when I vis­ited there were no queues in the wait­ing lounge.

Dr. Ma­mam­dou Cisse, the di­rec­tor of Fore­cariah hos­pi­tal, put it down to fear and sus­pi­cion.

"The trust be­tween the health sys­tem and the pop­u­la­tion hasn't been com­pletely re­stored," he told me.

"And be­cause of that lack of trust, preg­nant women are stay­ing at home. They don't even come for their ante-natal ap­point­ments."

He told me that the hos­pi­tal was run­ning at around 30 to 50% of its nor­mal ca­pac­ity be­cause peo­ple are just too scared to come.

Be­fore Ebola, they would per­form an av­er­age of 38 cae­sare­ans a month, now it's down to an av­er­age of 18.

The day I vis­ited there were just 18 pa­tients.

"Nor­mally it's more than 50," he said.

Dr Cisse said his big­gest worry was that if th­ese ex­pec­tant moth­ers are not com­ing to the hos­pi­tal, then they may be dy­ing at home.

Be­fore the Ebola epi­demic, it was al­ready a bat­tle get­ting preg­nant women to visit a clinic or take their ba­bies for vac­ci­na­tions; most in­stead chose to see a tra­di­tional healer.

Guinea is al­ready in the worst 20 coun­tries in the world to be a mother, ac­cord­ing to the char­ity Save the Chil­dren.

One in 10 chil­dren dies un­der the age of five.

Women have a one in 30 chance of dy­ing dur­ing child­birth.

But this was a bat­tle health pro­fes­sion­als say they were win­ning, un­til Ebola came and peo­ple lost their trust in main­stream health care.

As well as mums dy­ing in their homes, doc­tors have seen po­lio and measles out­breaks be­cause peo­ple aren't get­ting their chil­dren vac­ci­nated, Unicef health spe­cial­ist Dr Ibrahim Cisse told me.

M'mah Ca­mara re­fused mid­wives through her three days in labour .

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