Mafi Dove Health Centre: Mothers, babies are kept on the floor as taboo forbids them to return home

When a health centre was constructed and commissioned in April 2018 at Mafi Dove, it was greeted with joy and merrymaking because it was going to end centuries of suffering by women as they were not allowed to give birth in the community, located in the Central Tongu Constituency of the Volta Region.

Mafi Dove Health Center: Mothers and babies are kept on the floor as taboo forbids them to return home

It is the community’s taboo to bloodstain the land. So, right from the minute pregnant women sense any sign of a possible contraction, they become personae non-grata. They are rushed out of the community with the utmost alacrity, and even after delivery, the nursing mothers are not permitted to return home until after the falling off of the umbilical cords of their babies.

It is believed that during childbirth, a lot of blood is spilt and the likelihood of a sacrilege being committed is high, so pregnant women nearing delivery time are evacuated from the community to avoid trouble with the gods of the land. They cannot even return after delivery, up until the falling off of their babies’ umbilical cords regardless of how long it takes. It is for this same reason that female animals are not reared or allowed into the community for fear that they might give birth and blood-stain the land in the process.

Although the Mafi Dove Health Centre was built on the outskirts of the community to give the residents, especially their women some respite, the facility is now bearing the brunt of the age-old taboo that the indigenes themselves are strangely not prepared to amend nor abolish.

The health centre which was originally meant to be a CHPS compound is now almost serving the purpose of a full-blown hospital. It has little to no space to accommodate mothers and their newborn babies after delivery while accepting more pregnant women and other patients.

Emmanuel Egu, the physician assistant in charge of the Mafi Dove Health centre disclosed in an interview with Pulse Ghana's Andreas Kamasah that his outfit is sometimes compelled to keep some of the mothers and their babies on the hard floor due to the lack of adequate space to accommodate them.

“The major concern that we have as health workers is the fact that people come here to deliver and they have to stay for a number of days. On average, it takes between three to five days or sometimes more than one week before the child’s umbilical cord will fall. So, if the person delivers, it means we have to make sure the person stays here until the child’s umbilical cord falls off. Sometimes people give birth at other facilities and because they can’t go back into the community, they come here to take shelter. Because the facility is not big enough to accommodate such people, it becomes a problem.

“It means that if other people too are coming to deliver, it is adding up to the number. And we don’t have adequate midwives who can be caring for the women and their babies while they stay here. We don’t even have enough beds to keep them, so sometimes we are forced to keep some of them on the floor,” Egu lamented.

According to him, although the Mafi Dove health facility operates as a hospital except for surgical and other complex cases, it is suffocating under so much pressure from the maternity side of things alone. He disclosed how some women who have undergone caesarian sessions at other health facilities and have been discharged come to Mafi Dove Health Centre to take shelter because they can’t return to the community until their babies’ umbilical cords fall off.

“At times we can have about five or our deliveries and we have just about four beds, so it means if those beds are full and we still have people who have delivered and have to stay over, it means that those people who are delivering fresh, where to put them is a problem,” he added.

When asked what could be the solution to the challenges the facility is grappling with, Egu recommended the building of what he referred to as a maternity wing or shelter furnished with adequate beds. This in his view would ease the pressure of having to accommodate mothers and babies in unbefitting conditions inside wooden makeshift structures within the small facility. He also spoke about the need to expand the existing health facility itself and employ more midwives to care for the mothers and their babies while they wait for the umbilical cords to fall.

“The best solution will be to have a maternity wing; something like a maternity shelter where we can be keeping those cases. Because the midwives are supposed to be dressing the cords for the babies everyday so that the umbilical cords can fall quickly.”

Other challenges:

Being initially designed to be just a CHPS compound, the Mafi Dove Health Center lacks adequate space and equipment to function effectively as a modern health center. Several units of the facility are crammed up into one small space and are unable to perform their respective roles effectively. Egu lamented that the situation compromises client privacy, hence some women, especially those that need family planning counselling and other conversations about sensitive matters feel uncomfortable visiting the hospital or opening up even when they do.

Aside from the inadequate space, another situation that puts pressure on the health centre is the fact that the Mafi Dove community doesn’t have a public toilet, and the majority of homes don’t have toilets too. Residents resort to open defecation in the bushes around the community. Egu said the health centre receives a lot of diarrhoea, dysentery and other cases linked to the intake of faecal matter.

Reacting to the lack of toilet issue, Amos Alorse, the town development planning secretary who doubles as the Unit Committee Chairman of the Mafi Dove electoral area, said he and his team have been embarking on sensitization campaigns to educate the locals on the need to attach toilet facilities to their homes.

Unequipped laboratory

Owusu Acheampong Kweku, the medical laboratory scientist at the health centre bemoaned the lack of or inadequacy of the necessary equipment to enable his office to function effectively for better healthcare delivery.

“The lab is under-equipped. As a health center, we are supposed to at least run tests like a full blood count but we are unable to do that because we don’t have a full blood count analyser. I have to sometimes improvise to do just the HB which is just a single part of the full blood count panel, and then go ahead to use my microscope to try and count some of the cells and then come out with a full diagnosis for the physician assistant,” he disclosed.

He called on the government, philanthropists, and non-governmental organisations to visit the Mafi Dove health facility to see for themselves the prevailing challenges and come to their aid.

Neglect by authorities

According to Amos Alorse, the town development planning secretary who doubles as the Unit Committee Chairman of the Mafi Dove electoral area, they have made several appeals to the district assembly and the central government for help to address the myriad of problems that the community faces, but the calls have fallen on deaf ears. He added that most times, the community members take it upon themselves to initiate development projects since assistance hardly gets to them.

The Mafi Dove community is noted for doing praiseworthy things through communal labour. They started building the health centre that currently serves them now, and they were almost done with the construction before the Ministry of Gender, children and social protection came in to assist in completing it following news reports about the community.

Currently, the community itself has built a police station and is waiting for it to be commissioned and police officers to be posted. They also have established a market recently, which has boosted economic activities in the area. Traders from various parts of the Volta Region and beyond take their merchandise to the Mafi Dove market to do business.

However, just like the community itself, the market women lamented the lack of toilet facility in the market, the muddy nature of the market floor and mini floods as some of the challenges they face, especially during rainy seasons. They want the floor cemented and a toilet facility built for them to ensure that the foodstuff and other commodities they sell to consumers are kept in hygienic conditions.

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