As we stood in the shell of what was to become a home for swollen bellies, home to mums-to-be filled with the hopes and dreams for their unborn children, we heard a chilling cry.
Across the way stood the clinic, and running from it, a young woman clutching a bundle. The cry rang out across the rolling valley on top of which stood the clinic. A cry so full of anguish and pain it could only be a cry of grief.
This young mother had carried her sick child all the way to the clinic, but it was too late. Her child had died on the way.
The community looked on in numb acceptance as dusk cast a warm yellow glow across the unfolding scene. Running to a nearby house, an elderly woman took the child from her arms.
Flinging her body to the orange earth, the young mother beat her fists creating plumes of dust, disbelief, frustration and anger.
No mother should have to suffer the death of her child. No community should have to bury a child every week, every day. Yet one in four children here in Sierra Leone will never reach their fifth birthday.
Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters are grieving the unnecessary loss of their child, brother or sister. This is unacceptable when we know how to prevent it.
It brought home the reality that it is not enough to renovate a clinic or build birth waiting homes. If mothers and the community aren’t able to recognise the danger signs in pregnancy, or malaria, diarrhoea or pneumonia in their children – they leave it too late to come to the clinic.
No nurse, however well trained, can bring a dead child back to life.
It made me realise how important our community health awareness and outreach work is. In these communities in the remote district of Kailahun, patients have to walk up to 10 miles to reach a clinic, through thick jungle forest, muddy roads and steep hills where there is no light past dark.
Around 70% of cases never reach a clinic. Empowered communities with the knowledge to spot, treat and refer cases of severe diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria will be able to prevent the unnecessary loss of life we witnessed.
One death is too many when we know how to prevent every one.