Bring your own water; bring your own blood. The perils of giving birth in Sierra Leone

Bring your own water! Bring your own blood! Filth encrusted speculum supplied. Sierra Leone’s doctors return to their country to make a difference. These are the conditions under which they are forced to work, and treat patients.

There is a critical shortage of nurses, dentists, health professionals and doctors. With only 150 doctors working in the public sector, it is not surprising that the health statistics for Sierra Leone are within the bottom quartile for least developed countries, with life expectancy of 51.3 years and under 5 mortality between 120 and 156 per 1000 live births.

During the Ebola epidemic, Sierra Leone lost 250 of its medical staff, weakening an already desperate health system even further. When last year medical staff went on strike, protesting against the lack of protective equipment, medical supplies and resources for the fight against COVID, the government appointee in charge of the COVID-19 response, suggested many of them of were in the medical profession for the wrong reasons.

The series of tweets that follow from Dr Catherine Jackson-Cole is the day-to-day reality of Sierra Leone’s primary maternity hospital, where drugs and equipment aren’t available, where doctors scrub up before operations using tiny plastic sachets of water because running water is scarce, and the staff wouldn’t consider giving birth there themselves.

Mother’s Day is a national holiday in Sierra Leone. We can do so much more to keep them from dying.

Photo of a small packet of water
Sierra Leone’s Princess Christian Maternity Hospital theatre relies on packet water because running water is rarely available.

The issues are the same year after year

Is anyone held accountable?

No gowns, no gloves

And another baby dies before it can be born

I am never having babies here

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