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Giving Birth in Somalia: A Matter of Life and Death

A skilled birth attendant makes a life-saving difference. Just ask Asha Barre Ahmed from Somalia.

Asha is 33, she lives in the Bellet Amin village in the Gedo region of South Central Somalia.

Last year, Asha lost her baby girl while giving birth alone at home and suffered from postnatal infection.

On feeling contractions in the middle of the night last Saturday, she called her neighbour who is a traditional birth attendant to come and help her. Her husband was not at home, and the birth attendant rushed to get a donkey cart to be able to bring her to Bulla Hawa maternity ward as the baby was  not well positioned. No vehicles operate during the night in the region due to insecurity  so donkey carts are the only transport means available.

Asha has just given birth in one of the most dangerous places in the world for women. Her baby boy  is strong and healthy weighting in at 4.5 kg. This time, the risk of getting post birth bleeding was  minimised and she would have been referred for further care promptly if she developed any complications.

She told me; “I was so worried thinking that I might lose my baby again, like my previous girl. But thanks to God and Trócaire, I had free access to health services. And even to transport, if they had not put in place the donkey cart, I would have had to wait until morning because no vehicle would have come to me at 3 am.”

After Asha gave birth at the hospital, she received a ‘baby kit’ including a baby blanket, soap, powder, and a clean cloth for baby’s use for nappies. The kits offer an incentive to encourage women to deliver in a safe place, with skilled health personnel. She was also given iron and vitamin  supplements to prevent anaemia and a counselling session on the importance of breastfeeding. Her baby boy received the initial critical vaccines against tuberculosis and polio as the first step of the vaccination schedule that will help him survive his first years. Somalia’s immunisation rates are amongst the lowest in the world.

There are no doctors in the Gedo region and almost 10% of women die of pregnancy related causes,  including delivery. While Somalia has been engulfed in conflict for 20 years, the greatest risk to  women’s lives is not war but birth.

UNICEF estimates that maternal mortality in Somala at 1,400 per 100,000 live births, which puts  Somali women as one of the most high-risk groups worldwide. The rate reflects how years of conflict have resulted in virtually all basic facilities – such as  referral hospitals, maternal and child health  facilities and services – being damaged or totally  destroyed. One in ten Somali children dies before his/her first birthday.

Over the past years, Trócaire has trained nurses and auxiliary nurses to ensure safe delivery and  reduce maternal and newborn mortality in Gedo. Trócaire is the sole NGO supporting health services in the 5 districts of northern Gedo. Between 2008 and 2010, Trócaire, through the Gedo Health  Centres, has been able to ensure 2,829 safe deliveries attended by skilled personnel.

This program is made possible thanks to the support of DFID, the European Commission, Irish Aid,  UNICEF and Trócaire’s supporters.

As today is the International Day of the African child, it seems fitting to highlight this life saving work in Somalia.


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