Saving mother's lives in Sierra Leone and Liberia

 
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A community health promoter and mother in Liberia
A community health promoter and mother in Liberia

BRAC's child and maternal health programs in Liberia and Sierra Leone are slowly taking stock and starting to rebuild. I spoke today with Ezra Lubemwa, the program manager for BRAC Liberia's health programs based in Monrovia who gave me an update. Due to travel restrictions and bans on public gatherings, the maternal health program was forced to shut down from August until December. The program has started again in earnest, with a 'no touching' policy for Community Health Promoters (CHP's) when they're visiting expectant mothers.

Ezra also mentioned that during the outbreak, CHP's and program assistants played a role in educating their communities about how Ebola was spread and distributed supplies (chlorine, hand sanitizer, plastic gloves, etc.) to those in need.

Now, the program adjusting to the country's changes and looking forward. CHP's are beginning to do follow-up with pregnant mothers they were visiting before the outbreak. Much of their job is often refering mothers and children to local clinics if health challenges arise. A number of clinics were forced to shutdown or were taken over by Ebola patients during the outbreak. To find out which ones are operating, CHP's taking stock of clinics in their communities so they can refer their patients. Many women travel far to get to clinics so this recovery will take some time. That being said, they are playing a key role in educating mothers and children on where they can go if they have health issues, Ebola related or not.

I asked Ezra what role mothers played during the outbreak. He explained that BRAC trained over 100 women to become birth attendants and they all helped mothers have safe deliveries in their communities when clinics were closed.

In February, Ezra explained that the program will restart its community outreach and teenage pregnancy initiatives, incorporating Ebola awareness into both. Public gatherings are still restricted to 7-8 people so the reach will be small at first. He is hopeful that it won't be long before their operations return to normal.

Thank you for supporting the courageous work of these women who are often risking their lives to help mothers and children in their communities.

Community health promoters Alison Wright 4/14
Community health promoters Alison Wright 4/14

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has further strained under-resourced and over-burdened healthcare systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In response, BRAC has mobilized its network on the ground to educate the public, distribute sanitation materials and food supplies, and work with partners to strategically combat the spread of this deadly disease.

Thanks to support from GlobalGiving donors and match-funding partners, BRAC provided first-response in June when local offices requested emergency funding for educational posters, flyers, radio jingles, as well as materials including chlorine, disinfectant, and sterile gloves to distribute from local branch offices. BRAC’s community health promoters – funded by this project and present in both Liberia and Sierra Leone – have played a key role in their communities by raising awareness and distributing materials where possible. However, because of travel bans and restrictions on public gatherings, BRAC’s regular programs, including this maternal health project, were put on hold in August. Offices reopened in September and programs are being modified, adapting to new restrictions.

BRAC’s first priority is fighting the spread of Ebola, channeling its efforts to train and support local leaders including its 2,400 community health promoters, 900 paid staff and thousands of microfinance village heads. BRAC Country representatives are working closely with the UN and local government to coordinate efforts where they’re needed most – specifically targeting women and girls who are especially vulnerable. BRAC is also cognizant of the long-term economic impact of the disease in West Africa – the World Bank estimates a $32.6 billion net loss in the next two years – and is raising funds through this project and others to support the country in rebuilding its health, education, and microfinance sectors.

Knowing that ending the current crisis will take significant resources and a coordinated response, BRAC has partnered with other organizations in the Ebola Survival Fund. See the links below for more information.

BRAC asks that you send your thoughts out to the families of community health promoters, mentors, staff, and volunteers who have lost their lives combatting this deadly disease.

Links:

Thanks to generous funds from globalgiving donors, along with match-funding from our partners, BRAC has made substantial strides toward improving maternal health in West Africa. In the last year, BRAC trained a total of 984 community health workers who have provided pre- and post-natal care to more than 38,000 women in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In addition to providing these services, BRAC staff conducted reproductive, maternal and child health information sessions with village health committees as well as with mother's groups in local communities. This grassroots approach aims to educate communities about maternal health to reduce child and maternal mortality rates in both countires.

While we can see the effectiveness of our programs in communities where we operate, there are still tens of thousands of mothers in LIberia and Sierra Leone who have little or no access to healthcare. To be truly effective, we need to operate at scale. Luckily this is a lesson BRAC knows well. To make a big impact in the lives of mothers all over Liberia, we need to continue expanding the program, recruiting more community health promoters and supporting and strengthening the existing health system.

To add an additional challenge, the Ebola epidemic has hit both Liberia and Sierra Leone in areas where our programs operate. This deadly virus puts a severe strain on an already over-burdened, under-resourced health system. BRAC is working to arm our community health promoters with tools and resources they need to educate their communities about how to prevent, diagnose, and treat Ebola.

BRAC learned in Bangladesh that it could acheive big strides in healthcare by making basic preventive and curative services available at the community level. Enter the Community Health Promoter (CHP), both a healer and an entrepreneur. BRAC trains women from the community to bring low-cost health care to her neighbor's doorsteps. She earns a living and is able to support her own family while providing life-saving services to her community. The CHP and other community-based health workers are the foundation of our health programs in Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

In Liberia, the health program now reaches more than 539,927 people in seven counties with basic preventive care. By the end of February 2014, 584 CHPs and 300 Traditional Birth Attendants have undergone training for The Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health project. They provide family planning services as well as ante- and post-natal care. By February 2014, a total of 53,346 cycles of oral contraceptives and 5,607 female condoms have been distributed in the communities. By February 2014, 19,244 pregnant women received antenatal services in 105 communities.

Though a bit smaller in scale, the health program in Sierra Leone is seeing similar gains. By February 2014, a total of 701 CHPs have been trained. They have conducted a total of 3,979 village health meetings, provided ante-natal care to 4,127 women and post-natal care to 3,850.

We'll keep you updated as we receive reports from the field. Thank you for supporting this important work!

Links:

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Organization

BRAC USA

New York, NY, United States
http://www.bracusa.org

Project Leader

Scott MacMillan

New York, NY United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Saving mother's lives in Sierra Leone and Liberia