At the crack of dawn and after being blessed by her mother and the elderly in one of the pastoralist villages of Denan woreda (district), 30-year-old Sindebie Weda left her bush house to travel 250 kilometres in a heavy truck to Degehabur hospital. Two bags filled with dresses and some biscuits were the items she carried for her long journey. Her aunt, accompanying her, helped Sindebie to climb to the back of the heavy truck, crammed full with cargo and people travelling to town.
When the truck left the town, Sindebie sighed in relief. In her six years of married life in this village, she has lost two babies in two deliveries. On both occasions, like many women in the area, Sindebie tried to deliver at home supported by traditional birth attendants. “During my second delivery just two years ago, not only did I lose the baby but I was almost on the verge of death. I was unconscious for hours while I was taken to the local health centre after a failed delivery attempt at home,” Sindebie remembers. She then recovered after being transferred to another secondary healthcare hospital, some 300 kilometres away.
“I was traumatised by such experiences,” says Sindebie. She was determined not to undergo such a devastating situation again. She was intent on paying whatever it took to make her third delivery successful. After a half-day arduous and bumpy journey, the truck finally arrived at Degehabur town. “When I was told that I had arrived at the hospital, I was filled with joy and smiled for the first time in months and, for the very first time, I felt I would soon enjoy nature’s blessing – being a mother,” she says.
As expected, she was well received and treated. However, after a few moments of rest, she was called into the examination room and, after conducting the proper antenatal care examination, the maternity staff at Degehabur hospital told Sindebie her due date had not yet arrived and advised her to go back home and return after 10 days.
When Sindebie heard this she couldn’t believe it. In an instant, memories flashed back of all the agonies, the loss and the miseries she had suffered over the years. She was dumbfounded. “When I saw her silence I thought she hadn’t understood the advice so I told her again,” says Rukia Abdulahi, midwife and supervisor of the mother and child healthcare unit at the hospital. “Then she slowly raised herself up from the examination bed and sat comfortably. She stared at the three of us, the midwives. She then settled her eyes directly on me, fixing me with a piercing look. Silence filled the little room for few seconds.
Suddenly, Sindebie’s strong voice broke the silence: 'I won’t leave the hospital until I give birth to a live baby. I’ve had enough. I’ve already lost two babies during my previous two deliveries. I don’t want to go without my baby!'”
The midwives were stunned by the response. Rukia says the woman’s determination was firm and unequivocal. They never expected such a response. After listening to Sindebie’s traumatic tale, the medical team was convinced and sympathetic. However, Rukia says “the problem was where to accommodate her and who could provide her with assistance for days. We were at a loss as to what to do.”
Sindebie’s story spread very fast around the hospital until it reached Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff working in partnership with the Regional Health Bureau in Degehabur hospital. Already aware of such challenging situations, MSF was in the process of constructing a maternity waiting house in the hospital. Dr Seri Sango, medical activity coordinator of the MSF Degehabur project, says: “Although the maternity waiting house was only half completed, we had to adjust and create a room for this courageous woman to stay. We facilitated that. She stayed for seven days and gave birth to a healthy baby.” Lying happily beside her baby, Sindebie Weda says:, “I’m very pleased. I thank all of you.”
It was not only the staff and community of Degehabur hospital who heard about Sindebie’s story, she also became famous in her Denan community and far beyond. Currently, the maternity waiting house is fully furnished and accommodates about 12 pregnant women at a time.
Since it became fully operational in January 2015, more than one hundred pregnant women coming from all villages (kebele) in the Jerar region, and some from other areas, suffering various kinds of pregnancy-related complications (such as severe and mild pre-eclampsia, anaemia, multiple pregnancies, among others) have benefited from the maternity waiting house. Rukia says: ‘If it hadn’t been for MSF, we could have faced serious problems in saving the lives of these mothers and also in supporting them to deliver safely. We don’t have any space to keep mothers here for weeks.” At the maternity waiting house, the basic needs of pregnant women are provided – hygiene, health education, food, soap, detergents and general medical treatment, as well as antenatal and postnatal medical care.
MSF is supporting the Somali Regional Health Bureau in providing quality healthcare at Degehabur hospital as well as in outreach locations via mobile clinics, and is supporting health centres and health posts in the provision of care.