By Lizzie Moncada, Senior Programmes Officer, Save the Children
A few of my friends who have had babies in the UK recently have told me stories about having to wait until the last possible minute before asking for an epidural injection, or how the midwife wasn’t available when they needed to start pushing.
It all sounds terrifying to me, and I’m sure it was for them. However, after visiting a Save the Children maternity clinic in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, last week, I’ll be telling my friends just how good they have it in the UK.
Homeless in Bangui
I met a number of women in their twenties and thirties who had fled their homes in Bangui to seek shelter in the grounds of a church. Since March 2013, violence has overwhelmed the country and almost the whole population of 4.6 million, including more than 2.3 million children, is affected. Hundreds of people have set up camp around the church, sheltering under trees, protected only by plastic sheeting. There is little food and people are scared to leave in case they get caught in crossfire. I can’t imagine how terrifying all this must be if you are heavily pregnant.
Safety – but few facilities for pregnant women
Cristelle, 20, had her first baby in Save the Children’s makeshift maternity ward, where only a flimsy freestanding board separates women in labour from others caring for their newborns. There is no gas, no air and definitely no epidurals on offer.
Still, all the women I spoke to just seemed happy that their babies had arrived safely and that in the camp, they were protected from the unrest outside. These were very brave women. Larissa, 22, is five months pregnant with her third child; she has been living in Bangui’s Mukassa IDP camp since December because her neighbourhood is too dangerous. She says : “My husband has no money so I can’t give birth in a hospital. I am pleased I can give birth at Save the Children’s maternity clinic as there are trained midwives and nurses here.”
Save the Children’s midwife speaks
Christy, Save the Children’s midwife, told me that she attends about two births a day at the camp, and that because of a lack of antenatal care, serious problems can arise during birth – with no warning. “What I like most about my job,” she says, “is that I get to help mothers give birth in good conditions. I myself have a child and I gave birth in a hospital. Unfortunately some women come to us too late, and have had no antenatal checks. This means their babies can be stillborn.”
Save the Children is currently working in four regions of CAR, delivering basic healthcare and nutrition services to the most vulnerable members of the population as well as setting up places for children – some of them alone, their parents forced to hide in the bush – to play safely while schools remain closed.