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Nigeria: Part 5 - "It just doesn't seem fair"

29 Dec 2017

A stillbirth and the image of his happy nephew seem irreconcilable for Dr Jared Watts as he considers the role of the wider community in ensuring better health outcomes for women in Jahun. 

I hadn't really ever contemplated becoming an uncle. But when my nephew Archer arrived on the scene, he quickly became an important and precious part of my life. Let's just say, I even have his photo on the backdrop of my phone. He is healthy, happy and growing well despite difficulties throughout the pregnancy. I often joke that it was the most stressful pregnancy I had ever been involved in! Earlier this week, I was returning to Jahun hospital after a quick lunch at the base. I had downloaded a couple of photos from my sister, of Archer trying beetroot for the first time. He had spread it all over his face. He had a massive grin and it made me grin too.

I started my round and went to the patient in bed number one. She had presented in labour and the national doctor was scanning her abdomen. He was looking at the baby's chest and heart, which was not contracting. Her baby had died—a sad and all-too-common event in Jahun.

“Her baby had died—a sad and all too-common event in Jahun”

Reading the file, my eyes began to tear up. Her history and examination findings sounded all too familiar. This young woman could have been my sister. She had had very similar problems in her pregnancy. But rather than holding a beautiful, live child in her arms, she would soon deliver her stillborn child who would be quickly handed over to her relatives to be buried before sundown. As I stood there, considering her case, the national doctor discussed with her what he had found, and what we would do. 

‘It just does not seem fair,’ I mumbled to myself.

Actually it IS not fair, was a truer statement. Because of where this mother had been born and lived, her baby had died. Because of her poor finances, her lack of opportunity for education, the lack of antenatal care near her home, her poor nutritional status and the limited medical facilities available in her region, her baby had died from what we would say is a highly preventable death in any developed country. 

“I thought about how many more mothers like this would face the same situation today in Nigeria”

I could not imagine a life without Archer, but this is the reality that this woman now faced. Worse, I am sure she will not be the last to suffer the loss of her baby here in Jahun today. I thought about how many more mothers like this would face the same situation today in Nigeria or even across Africa as a whole. That thought was overwhelming. These women suffered all because of where they were born and lived.

The longer I am here, the more I realise that providing hospital care isn’t enough. As well as providing a comprehensive medical program there’s a bigger picture to consider, with opportunities to prevent disease in the first place. We need to listen to the research that constantly demonstrates that if you educate women, the whole community's health and wellbeing improves. Women’s education and antenatal care are the way we can change the future. 

I feel another large component is men, yes men. Throughout the world men hold the majority of positions of power and leadership in politics, religion and within families. We need to promote women’s education, the availability of contraception to allow well-spaced families, ensure adequate antenatal care opportunities and look at more equitable distribution of resources in society. We need to do this for our women and children, the next generation, and ourselves, as a strong society is essential for everyone.

In this better future all mother’s will get to walk out of the hospital, holding their babies, their ‘Archers,’ and can head home to show off their new babies to the extended family including, I am sure, some very proud new doting uncles.