The Gambia has failed to protect her pregnant women and babies
I am aware that the Gambia is a nation of intractable sycophancy. But for us to reduce ourselves to accepting the balderdash flaunted by our leadership that our health system is the best in the sub-region is the nadir of our country’s journey.
What kind of a people will have the audacity to even entertain and/or argue when their mothers, sisters, wives, and babies are dying because of the catastrophic failings of their health system and the apathy of their government?
Why is the country not moved to act on an unimaginable and harrowing maternal deaths in the country?
Hundreds of mothers and babies died or were injured during childbirth in the Gambia, because of repeated failings in maternal care at our health system. Yet gaping self-interested factional divisions are propelling us ever more rapidly towards humiliation surpassing anything I see by feigning that everything is normal.
These deaths and suffering are as a result of corruption, incompetence, lack of accountability and a leadership completely out of touch with reality.
The sub-standard care in our hospitals causing deaths and injuries are having catastrophic impact on families. It is shocking and deplorable specially when our government is in denial and refuses to accept responsibility.
Mothers and children should not have died and/or suffered injuries at this scale while giving birth if they had received good care.
The number of deaths are increasing and cannot get any worse. I am shocked and saddened by this mostly avoidable tragedy. One will expect by now the government will wake up and realise that there is a serious problem at our hospitals, but, no.
Hence, our mothers, wives, sisters and our babies, for goodness sake, are dying almost every day. The numbers are incredibly hard to confront. The government failed comprehensively and cannot hold itself above responsibility for the unacceptable maternal deaths in the country.
There is grief, tears and desperation but also anger. And alongside that a duty of collective as well as institutional atonement. These deaths and injuries should shame us in to action.
But, contrast this with a no remorse, no apology, no investigation, no report but a culture of deflection and denials from the health Ministry snaking up to the very pinnacle of the government.
In this vein, we are right to shout from the roof top and organise demonstrations to hold our government accountable for the death of more than 70 babies as a result of poisonous syrups from Maiden pharmaceutical, an Indian Company.
However, according to the Gambia Women’s Lives Matter Charity that has and continues to champion maternity issues in the country; 405 mothers and 314 babies died since September 2020 to date as a direct result of maternal deaths. These are maternal deaths that they were abled to document with the support of death certificates.
According to World Bank report on maternal mortality rate of the Gambia in 2017, 597 deaths per 100,000 was documented. This contradicted the health Minister – Dr Samateh’s statistics for 2017 which he noted to be 236 maternal deaths per 100,000.
Nevertheless, on her Facebook page, Mballing Cham – one of the founders of Gambia Women’s Lives Matter Charity, details some of the maternal deaths in October 2022 as follow:-
4/10/22 – A pregnant woman gave birth, her baby passes away, but, she also needed blood.
7/10/22 – Another mother passes away a day after giving birth to a beautiful daughter.
7/10/22 – A mother died after giving birth to a twin
08/1022 – Another mother died at childbirth
9/10/22 – A mother died at SOS hospital and the body moved to Brufut hospital
13/10/22 – A pregnant woman at Brikama hospital - urgently needed blood
15/10/22 – A mother, nine months pregnant died during labour at Brikama hospital
I find it very difficult to fathom that these maternal deaths are happening in a tiny Gambia without eyebrows raised. In fact, it became so normal that the deaths are not being given the respect they deserve by institutions across the country including the online diaspora papers and commentators.
Alas, mothers and babies continue to die or suffer significant harm in our health facilities. This is as a result of suboptimal care, which emanates from poor leadership, incompetence, poor decision making, corruption and lack of necessary equipment among others.
Therefore, one is forced to challenge if there is any acceptable standard of care that all pregnant women and their babies should receive in the country?
There are reports that mothers were not being given pain relief, sometimes ignored when they asked for help or raised concerns. Pregnant women are sometimes spoken to with lack of compassion and empathy. They are sometimes derided by being told that when they were enjoying sex, why didn’t they think about the consequences, in essence.
Our government, to improve the safety of our mothers and babies, need to do more to reduce significantly the problems that are causing the unnecessary deaths of our women and babies at childbirth. Also, they should support maternal facilities and services across the country in order for them to take urgent action to tackle maternal deaths that has become normal in the country.
Our pregnant women go to our hospitals expecting that they will be cared for and be safe, but the system lets them down. Now there is a groundswell of discontent of the status quo and genuine fear of pregnant women going to hospital to give birth. Women are also, reporting that they are understandably scared to even get pregnant.
There are external issues like lack of trained staff, less resources, lack of consistent electricity and water supply, poor antenatal care piling on numerous other poor maternity issues causing deaths.
But some causes are internal and involve failures in team working, professionalism, compassion and listening. In addition, delays in seeking health attention, bad nutrition, lack of blood and even transportation for pregnant women to quickly access health services.
The government needs to respond to the dangerous dysfunction at our health systems by not only injection more money, but giving our health system teeth. They need to introduced a host of policy changes and implement them to improve maternal care in the country.
The government should provide training for nurses, midwives, obstetricians, make maternal care friendly and compassionate. This is with the aim of taking significant action to transform our care for our pregnant women and their babies.
With these, our mothers will have best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood.
Ebrima Scattred Janneh(EB)