“It will only take 10 minutes – but it can be the difference between life and death.”
This is what Stella, a Save the Children midwife at Bambari Regional Hospital, tells me as Mariam is rushed into the operating theatre.
She has just given birth to her fourth child, a healthy boy already named Jonny.
A dangerous situation
But in the process she suffered from a serious vaginal tear and is now in danger of bleeding out or later catching a nasty infection; she needs stitches, immediately.
Twenty minutes later the worst has been averted, with Mariam now stitched up and back in her bed sleeping.
“If we weren’t here to stitch her back up she would probably have bled to death,” Stella says, “If she had given birth at home today Jonny would never have met his mother.”
Women travelling up to 60km to give birth
Mariam is just one of many pregnant women who are referred to this hospital from local health posts every month. I’m told that some women travel from as far as 60km away to give birth here – often having to travel on the back of a motorbike along practically non-existent roads.
But it is crucial that these women are not giving birth in their homes, where there is no trained professional to help them if something goes wrong. Mariam’s case is a prime example of this.
Not all these stories have happy endings
Unfortunately, as in hospitals the world over, triumph and tragedy are never far apart. As Mariam recovers from surgery her neighbour lies quietly in the bed next door.
She arrived at lunchtime after walking 25km from her home. She was already fully dilated when she left her village but she knew something was wrong. By the time she got to the hospital she was exhausted and still hadn’t delivered. Unfortunately when the baby came it was stillborn.
Extra time can be crucial
“It is very sad. Pregnant women here often wait until they are having regular contractions before thinking about coming to the hospital – but this is too late,” says Stella. “We are teaching communities to come as soon as the contractions start… that extra time can mean absolutely everything.”
Save the Children have been supporting the Regional Hospital in Bambari by providing free healthcare, medicines and food for patients.
Stella tells me that we are seeing progress: because of our work the number of pregnant women delivering at home in the area is reducing. “I am proud of what we are achieving here,” she tells me.
As we say our goodbyes Stella gets a big hug from Jonny’s new grandmother. “Thank you so much for everything Save the Children has done for my daughter,” she says. “Thank you for saving her life!”