|© UNICEF Niger/2005/Dolan|
|A young mother waiting for her prenatal exam holds her health card. After the check-up, the card is stamped and she is given a receipt entitling her to a 2-week ration of millet grain, three bars of soap and a bednet.|
By Sabine Dolan
TCHADOUA, Niger, 15 September 2005 – Nineteen-year-old Sara was one of a thousand pregnant women who gathered recently at the health centre at Tchadoua in Niger’s Maradi region, for free prenatal check-ups and also to collect a set of benefits: food and an insecticide-treated bednet, to help prevent malaria.
Like Sara, most of the women gathered in Tchadoua had never had a prenatal check-up before, but the main draw was the supply of food. The villages around Tchadoua have been hit hard by Niger’s ongoing food crisis.
“After morning prayers at 4.30 I had breakfast and started walking here,” Sara said. “I didn’t have time to do the housework today, because I had to come for my check-up.”
UNICEF, working with the government of Niger and other organizations, organized this effort for pregnant women in 56 villages in this area.
“The goal of this distribution was double,” said UNICEF’s Arsene Azandossessi. “We wanted to directly address the food insecurity faced by these women during this very difficult time. But we also wanted to act pre-emptively on one of the determinants of the high maternal mortality rate.” The latter was accomplished via the free prenatal exams and insecticide-treated bednets.
|© UNICEF Niger/2005/Dolan|
|An expectant mother who has completed her prenatal visit waits for her ration of grain. She is holding her three bars of soap and an insecticide-treated net to protect her from malaria during pregnancy.|
Niger’s maternal mortality rate is extremely high at an estimated 590 per 100,000 live births. One in four children dies before the age of five and 40 percent are chronically malnourished.
After their check-ups at the health centre, expectant mothers were given a receipt entitling them to a 2-week ration of millet grain, three bars of soap and a bednet. Traditional midwives monitored the handing out of soap and nets.
Another woman who came to the health centre was 19 year-old Barrira, from the village of Douma just four km away. She arrived accompanied by her mother Indo and her mother-in-law. While waiting for the check-up, Barrira gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Their first prenatal exam
“The labour was not very long and I feel fine now. Our village was told about the distribution yesterday and I came here to be examined,” Barrira said, smiling. “This is my first baby. I’m not sure what we’ll call him yet. My husband will decide during the baptism ceremony in a week’s time.”
Sitting next to her daughter, 44-year-old Indo, who has had 11 children of her own, said she is very relieved. “My daughter gave birth under good conditions and there were no complications, thank God. I’m really happy with the help we received here today.”
Of the thousand pregnant women who came to the health centre, a total of 721 were there to get their very first prenatal exam.
Over the three-day operation, UNICEF distributed 39 tons of millet grain, 3,000 bars of soap and 1,000 treated mosquito-nets. UNICEF is organizing similar events at 10 other health centres in the Maradi and Zinder regions of Niger.
15 September 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Francis Mead reports on operations to provide pregnant women in Niger with free check-ups and food.