The West African country of Liberia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be pregnant - 1 in 20 women will die during pregnancy or childbirth. This high statistic is the result of a protracted civil war that has damaged the country’s health infrastructure
—there is severe shortage of trained personnel, a lack of medical equipment and supplies, and pregnant women often have to travel long distances just to reach a health clinic. But the government, under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is welcoming innovative new projects to help lower the country’s high rate of maternal deaths. One such project began this month, with the opening of the first of seven ‘maternity waiting homes’ in Bong County, in north-central Liberia.
A ‘maternity waiting home’ is a facility, within easy reach of a hospital or health center, that is equipped with medical supplies and provides antenatal care with skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care. Many women in Bong County live great distances from any kind of medical center or clinic, so giving them access to a nearby home up to three weeks before their expected due date can help ensure that they are close to the life-saving services they need. The Liberian homes can house up to eight women at a time and will be run by traditional birth attendants who will provide education on health and family planning, and encourage breastfeeding and birth spacing. Africare, an NGO supporting the project, believes family planning is a key component to decreasing maternal mortality.
Six other parts of Bong County will soon be getting a maternity waiting home with the second home scheduled to open by the end of the month. Funded by USAID’s Child Survival Innovation Grant, the effectiveness of these homes will be determined with the assistance of researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. These researchers will work to compare the birth outcomes of women in the seven maternity homes with women in six other areas of Bong County that do not have waiting homes.
The project also includes training 130 traditional birth attendants and certified midwives in how to use cell phones to text maternal and infant health data to a central site—the hope is that this action will provide better health data for analysis in the future. President Johnson Sirleaf knows accurate data are important to understanding problems and understanding solutions, especially around maternal and child health. In her remarks at the launch of the Women’s Health Commission for the African Region she implored, “But we must never forget that behind these numbers, behind these statistics, there are real people – real women like us, our sisters, and mothers, our cousins and daughters.” With such strong political will and investment in innovative new programs, there is great hope that more women in Liberia will be saved.”