Will Liberia’s $1m facility reduce maternal mortality in the country?

Maternal mortality remains a global struggle, with more than 300,000 women dying in pregnancy, childbirth or shortly afterwards every year. These deaths are particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Liberia which has a high burden of maternal deaths estimated at 1,072 per 100,000 live births, one of the highest in the African region. So far, the government has prioritized maternal and Newborn health in order to reverse this trend and one of the measures taken is the launch of a one-year project tagged Strengthening Maternal and Infant Healthcare in Liberia (SAFE) Programme.

The one year project funded by the United Arab Emirates Government in partnership with the Government of Liberia is aimed at improving the health status of 15,000 women of reproductive age and children under five in rural communities of Liberia.

The high mortality rate in Liberia is a result of overall bad medical practices such as low numbers of skilled and motivated health workers, unequal geographic distribution of the health workforce, poor access to ante and post-natal care services, lack of information on maternal services, cultural practices, poor accountability and poverty. All these combined with low levels of trust for health sector workers and services puts the lives of women and children under five years at risk.

Presently, the World Health Organization regards Liberia as one of the world’s most dangerous countries to give birth in, despite the country’s ten-year National Health Policy and Plan spanning from 2011-2021 to build a resilient health system.

Between 2010 and 2016, the number of functional health facilities in Liberia increased by 27 percent, with a significant increase in coverage of immunization and antenatal. But it is one thing to have a functional health facility and it is another to have the required number of skilled medical practitioners, drugs and equipment required to service a large number of people who require medical assistance on a daily basis.

Many Liberians, especially those in rural areas, travel more than an hour to access health facilities. Imagine a woman who is having contractions travelling a long distance to access a health facility where ill-trained attendants and bad medical practices await the already tired woman with a restless baby at the verge of coming into the world.

According to Liberia’s Director of Mercy Corps, Kwasi Gyeabour, “As we all know, we are still growing as a country. Our community health system is not as strong as it should be, so a bulk of the funding will go towards supporting health care at the community level, providing the necessities that we need to make sure our women are saved.”

Saving Liberian women through best medical practices needs to be ingrained in the educational systems in Liberia as incorrect procedures have cost many their lives. Eunice Josiah, a midwife in a small Liberian village noted that some local clinicians just “roll a pestle on the mother’s stomach to try to push the baby out”, jeopardizing the life of the mother and the baby.

Despite the gradual decline in the past two decades, it is possible to improve maternal health and the first step to take is to remove the barriers that limit access to quality maternal health services. Secondly, inequalities in accessing quality reproductive, maternal, and newborn health care services should be completely removed.

The next step is accountability. All the necessities gotten with the funds from the one million SAFE project should be properly accounted for but more importantly, all women, including adolescents, need access to contraception, safe abortion services and quality post-abortion care; that way, maternal mortality will reduce drastically.

An additional facility tailored to ease the struggles of expectant mothers is a welcome idea but if various other factors are not considered and put in place, the SAFE programme might reduce maternal mortality rate in the coming year, for which the programme is expected to run, but its long-term sustainability cannot be guaranteed.