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Rosie Scribble

The grim reality of childbirth in the developing world

in Africa, Charity, Childbirth, Current Affairs, Pampers Unicef, Tetanus

Our hotel in Bertoua, in the Eastern region of Cameroon, was surprisingly comfortable given the rural location and the obvious poverty in the surrounding area. I was adapting to sleeping under a mosquito net, although the sound of mosquitoes hovering around the lake outside had me applying repellent in a slightly heavy-handed fashion.

Our first stop was the district hospital in the village of Nguelemendouka. There we viewed the facilities, including the storage room where the tetanus vaccines were kept in fridges to keep them at their required temperature. The District Medical Officer, Dr Wassep, discussed his work at the hospital and explained to us how outreach services took vaccines to villagers in the surrounding areas.

Health centre Cameroon Africa

The last maternal and newborn tetanus campaign in the region, in February 2010, had proved successful with 81.5% of women of childbearing age now protected against a disease he explained was virtually impossible to treat. He last saw a case in 2008 – a three-week-old baby – but was unable to save him.

The hospital was very sparse, chronically under-resourced and we only saw a handful of patients during our visit. The remote location made travelling to the hospital by dirt track extremely difficult, and healthcare in Cameroon is not free, so patient numbers are determined by the ability to pay.

Health centre Cameroon Africa

It was the delivery suite I found most disturbing: a hot, cramped room with no privacy, a sink with no running water and a metal bed with aggressive-looking metal stirrups. Women gave birth with no pain relief. If they wanted an anti-inflammatory post-delivery they had to pay. Those needing a C-section were given ketamin and nothing else. Again, this had to be paid for.

Giving birth at the district hospital cost US$6 – the equivalent of approximately £3.80 – and women had to bring their own equipment, including a razor blade, alcohol, blankets and a thread to tie the umbilical cord. For many women this is simply too expensive, so they are left with no choice but to give birth at home with no qualified professional on hand. It is unsurprising that the maternal death rate in Cameroon is 699 per 100,000 live births.

The unhygienic conditions in which so many women give birth and the high risk of infection highlight the importance of women and babies being vaccinated against tetanus. As many women have as many as ten children during their lifetime, the need is greater still.

As I left the hospital alarmed at what I had seen, I could think of no worse place to give birth. It also occurred to me that had I given birth to my daughter in an environment with no oxygen and resuscitation facilities, it is unlikely she would have survived.

The Pampers and UNICEF campaign runs from October to December. For every pack of Pampers products purchased with the “I pack = 1 life-saving vaccine” logo, Pampers will donate the cost of one tetanus vaccine to UNICEF. Additionally, by visiting the Pampers Village website and clicking on the Big Kiss button, a 'virtual kiss' will be sent to Pampers and UNICEF. For every 'virtual kiss' sent. Pampers will make an additional donation to UNICEF.

13 comments… add one
  • Hey Rosie – I’ve just been catching up with your trip to Africa. What an experience it must have been – especially starting with the emergency landing! This makes amazing reading. I remember always buying the Pampers nappies because of the Unicef logo but to read the story behind it is heartbreaking. Thank you for bringing it to the attention of everyone and making it a reality, rather than just a passing thing we see on the supermarket shelf. xxx

  • Whimsical Wife

    Just catching up on the Pampers Big Kiss and your trip – fabulously written Rosie and you’re making me have tears x

  • What an amazing post.
    Thank you for drawing attention to this.

  • Many thanks indeed. I’m really pleased I’m able to highlight the incredible work of UNICEF in this way. Like you, I would see the logo and not really know any of the stories behind the campaign. It is heartbreaking but many of the people we met had been helped by the Pampers and UNICEF partnership and it was amazing to see the product we see on the supermarket shelf really making a difference to people’s lives.

  • Thanks Wendy. I suppose this post must have really made you think given your own circumstances. It makes difficult reading in parts doesn’t it?

  • Thank you. It was a subject I knew very little about until I travelled out there. It is great to be able to bring the message home to others about life in the developing world.

  • Excellent post – and so important that we remember what the reality of childbirth is like for so many.
    It makes me cross sometimes when people in the UK complain that ‘birth is so medicalised these days’. They are so lucky to have access to hospitals and lifesaving interventions…

  • You’re absolutely right. The majority of the women we met gave birth at home alone with absolutely nothing – in fact, that’s tomorrow’s post. It is a world away from the highly clinical medical settings we have in the developed world and unsurprising that so many women die in childbirth every year. Alarming, disturbing and very shocking.

  • Brill post Rosie. Heartbreaking. I hd no idea conditions were still that basic.

  • It’s not until you see the conditions that you actually begin to realise how little some people have. When we were in Bangladesh there were no bottles for milk, no pushchairs either. Women there have to stay clothed during birth and the state of the hospitals is nothing short of shocking. I know many people in the UK who would not have survived birth, nor their children, in these conditions, yet it’s just the beginning and there’s lots of other diseases which untreated become fatal. I hope your blogs are raising awareness.

  • You’re absolutely right. To think that the hospitals and health centres were visited were likely to have been cleaned prior to our arrival makes it even more shocking because they really were poor. There was simply nothing there. I didn’t see a single bottle or pushchair either. To think what happens to the women who experience complications during childbirth, especially those who are giving birth alone at home, is tragic and very very disturbing. As you say, this is just the beginning, and you have experienced yourself – there are so many diseases that become fatal when untreated. How different are lives are here.

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