A Simple Mistake that Cost a Life
By Tonte Ibraye, National Coordinator, White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, Nigeria
Mercy Ibraye-George is my elder sister. Mercy did not go to the university. Instead, she got a job with a restaurant in Port Harcourt. Her plan was to make some money to help support our education. My mother had been the only breadwinner of the family. “She can’t do it alone,” my sister said. That was how we all went to school. Many years later, she got married and lived happily with her husband.
Mercy’s first pregnancy in November 2008 had some complications, but she was able to deliver her baby boy safely through Caesarean section, an operation that cost the equivalent of about US $1,000. They had to borrow for the operation, and it took them more than six months before they could pay back the money.
A few months ago, I heard that my “Big Sister” was pregnant again. The problems started after her expected delivery date passed and there was no sign of delivery. It was the week of 16 August, 2010, and I was in Port Harcourt to help prepare for the stakeholders meeting of WRA Nigeria members in Rivers State. When I visited her one evening, I discovered that she had not gone for antenatal care because of the high cost of transportation in Port Harcourt; I gave her money to go to the clinic the following day. After the visit, she said the doctor had given her two weeks to deliver before he would have to operate.
“There is a traditional birth attendant who lives around here,” Mercy told me a few days later. “I think I’ll visit her for a check-up if I can’t afford to go to the hospital.” ”I don’t think she has the skills to handle an emergency when it arises,” I responded. “Please always stay close to the hospital.” I gave her some money and left for Abuja that afternoon, although I called frequently to check in on her.
By 31 August, I was so worried that I tried to arrange a visit to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. I expressed concern that my sister’s doctor had not carried out the operation yet. He asked me to have her referred to the Teaching Hospital. I called Mercy to inform her and also asked my mum to discuss it with her husband when he returned from work.
On 1 September, I received a call saying that Big Sister had died. She did not want to have the Caesarean section. Not being able to afford to pay the high cost of hospital bills, she had secretly visited the traditional birth attendant who lived nearby. I was told that the traditional birth attendant inserted something into her, and she died after a few minutes.
Mercy’s family has requested that WRA members to use this tragic event to help accelerate the reduction of maternal mortality.