After a decade-long conflict, Sierra Leone has many challenges ahead including improving child and maternal health. In 2009, one in eight women died during pregnancy. Fatimata Konte, an expectant mother, fears giving birth after already losing five of her children. She hopes the new policy to bring free healthcare to all pregnant women will save her next child and make giving birth safe for all women.
After a brutal decade-long conflict, Sierra Leone has the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world.
FATIMATA KONTE [Expectant mother, Kroo Bay]
My name is Fatimata Konte. I'm 36 years old. We women suffer too much. Women in Sierra Leone suffer too much! I've lived in Kroo Bay for four years. When I wake up at 5am I get out of bed, and the kind of pain that I feel is from my waist bone down to the bottom of my belly. I cough and I'm very sick. I'm really sick but it's like this for all women. From the day a child is born, she must work. Every day I must go to the market. There I have to bargain for fruits. It's a strain to go to the market. I must sell the fruit to have money to buy food to sell for the next day. It's all I can do to survive. I work for my daughter so she can go to school. She is in class four. I want her to learn. Let her learn. I want her to be somebody.
DR. TAGIE GBAWRU-MANSARAY [Doctor, Princess Christian Maternity Hospital]
When a woman is educated she can take care of herself, she can take care of the children, she can take care of her husband, her home. It benefits the population, the family, and it will help Sierra Leone in the long run. I'm a medical doctor, house officer here at the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital. When you're in school and you're studying to become a doctor, you read about all the fanciful techniques, all the wonderful drugs, the magic pills that you give to patients, all the different things that you can do as a doctor. When you come into the real world and you see that even basic things we don't have here -- the basic drugs, simple equipment -- and you are limited. At times you see a particular case and you think to yourself, if only I had this, if only I had that, I would have been able to save a patient's life.
One in five children die before their first birthday, and one in eight women die during pregnancy.
I have two children and I've lost five, so this is the eighth pregnancy. So right now, I am remembering the past. I am worried this one can die too. My biggest fear is that this child will die.
The one referral hospital in the capital of Freetown services a population of over 400,000 people.
DR. IBRAHAM THORLIE [Doctor, Princess Christian Maternity Hospital]
Hello, good afternoon. My name is Dr. Ibraham Thorlie. In this hospital we have four gynecologists. One doctor can serve over 100,000 people.
Though the hospital is severely understaffed, it is not the only reason so many people are dying.
DR. IBRAHAM THORLIE
The delay starts from home. If a woman is pregnant, she wants to give birth, and the husband is not around, she cannot be taken anywhere without the husband coming, because he gives the money. If you come too late, we cannot help you.
And, often, those patients who come too late are very close to death.
DR. IBRAHAM THORLIE
It's a big dilemma. If the patient can pay you, then it's good. But when they cannot pay you, you need to help them.
Rather than watching their patients die, many doctors and nurses like Rebecca pay for the worst cases from their own small salaries.
REBECCA MASSAQUEI [Nurse, Princess Christian Maternity Hospital]
I'm a poor nurse. I don't have money to take care of this baby. But the baby should have died, because there was nobody to take care of the baby. So that's why I decided to take the baby. He will live to tell this story. So he's the victory child. That why I call his name Victor.
Victor is one of the few lucky survivors in a place where so many die. However, the government has just launched a program providing free healthcare for pregnant women and children under five.
DR. IBRAHAM THORLIE
Now things are picking up with the pronouncement of the free healthcare system. It's a big incentive and we hope that will surely bring a difference. But to sustain it is not an easy thing.
We women are all very happy that women will finally get treated.
On April 16, 2010 Fatimata Konte gave birth to a healthy baby boy.