My first weekend back from Niger I was sitting on the banks of the Thames at Henley watching some rowing with a pimms in my hand – you can’t get much more British than that! It was so beautiful and such a change seeing so much green rather than the sandy colours I’d become accustomed to, and sitting in the sun but not sweating profusely from the intense heat of Niger.
There were loads of families sitting on their tartan rugs, with picnics spread out in front of them and their healthy looking babies playing under the shade of a tree or umbrella with numerous toys to choose from and attentive mothers playing with them. I couldn’t help but reflect on the stark contrast this was to the mothers and babies I’d met in Niger.
There’s no such thing as leisure time for mothers there and little in the way of children’s toys — when I asked one mum what toys her baby played with she showed me the one spoon they had in the house.
An old school friend of mine gave birth to her first child while I was away in Niger. I was keen to meet him as soon as I got home and last weekend I did — just as he turned eight weeks old. At eight weeks he weighed 4.7kg, more than many of the two year olds, like Rahila, that I met in Niger – and apparently he was quite small for his age.
He was born at home and there were no complications. There was a midwife on hand to support and if there’d been any problems or complications the nearest hospital was only a ten minute drive away. In the UK on average 3% of mothers give birth at home with the rate rising to 14% in some counties like West Somerset. 40 years ago the UK Government policy was pushing for all births to take place in hospital but now the government is saying that women who want to give birth at home should be able to — the number of women choosing this option is rising each year. What every British woman is encouraged to do is to think about what sort of birth they want and to plan ahead and prepare for the birth.
In Niger, on the other hand, most women give birth at home and most women give birth with no support from a trained midwife. Assia, 20, who was nine months pregnant when I met her told me, ‘I don’t know exactly where I’m going to give birth. I would like to come here (the clinic) to give birth but I have to walk here. Really, this makes it very difficult.’
It’s not surprising that the maternal mortality rate is one in seven and the neonatal mortality rate is one more than one in five.