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Women’s Health: A safe start to life in Lesotho
While the southern African country of Lesotho isn’t particularly big, it is difficult to get around. There’s little of what you would call a road network and the harsh weather often cuts off the majority of people who live in rural areas.
This makes access to healthcare an ordeal – taxis are often too expensive and trekking for days is normal.
So, imagine being pregnant. None of this is ideal, less still if you take into account that once you arrive at your local clinic, you'll probably be referred to a bigger hospital even further away. In Maseru District, it’s easy to see why only 44 percent of deliveries are attended by skilled personnel.
Yet, at St Joseph’s District Hospital in Roma, one idea is helping. The concept is simple: rather than pregnant women having to travel back and forth, often at great cost and stress to them, why not offer them a place to stay?
They can then be looked after by medical professionals, right through to birth and beyond.
The Waiting Mother’s Lodge
The Waiting Mothers' Lodge, supported by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), was barely finished when I visited, yet was already full of pregnant women. Within minutes of arriving, I can’t get a word in edgeways.
I chat to Mapulumo Moeketsi. “I came here by taxi from Semongkong, it took around four hours. Without this lodge, I’d have to come back at least every Friday. It’s hard.” She’s very relaxed and happy about the medical care she’ll receive, especially as it’s her first child.
This is important. Lesotho has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and there is a real problem with HIV and tuberculosis (TB) being passed on to newborns. Sadly this also contributes to high infant mortality rates.
MSF’s simple and effective response
As I look around, I’m reminded that sometimes the simplest ideas really are the best.
Since MSF started to cover the costs of giving birth in this hospital (equivalent to 31 USD per delivery, including transport and accommodation in the lodge), 95 percent of babies in the catchment area were born in the hospital. This is an impressive statistic compared to the nationwide average of only 44 percent of births attended by skilled personnel.
Now it's a matter of having this idea catch up in the rest of the country.