By Br. Fabio Mussi, PIME
As soon as we set in motion all departments of our new diocesan hospital of Touloum, we were forced to come to grips with organizational glitches relative to the required specializations. The professional training of hospital personnel and the tasks assigned to each of them is different in Cameroon from those that would be assigned to them in most developed countries. We are not talking about skills per se, but assignment of tasks and responsibilities. For example, the curriculum covered by those aspiring to become nurses, here, is similar in content to the one that would be required in any European hospital. The specializations are also similar. However, on the job, nurses here are expected to be more flexible and adaptable. Case in point: since five year ago, in Cameroon there is no more the possibility of specializing in obstetrics. Such specialization, though, can be acquired through additional courses while continuing their general professional work.
This is the case of Agatha, our professional nurse who for years now has been on the road, visiting several health stations scattered across three provinces of the Diocese of Yagoua in the northern-most region of Cameroon. Agatha began her stint as professional nurse at the diocesan health station of Lara, a village at the foot of an old volcanic mountain in the province of Mayo Kani.
After a short internship, Agatha began to cover pre-natal visits of expecting mothers. The step from handling pre-natal visits to the delivery room is short indeed. Thus, Agatha acquired knowledge of all the phases of pregnancy including regular checkups, preparing for the birth, delivery and follow-ups at the diocesan health station of Lara. By that time the Diocesan Health Administration Board already directed her to shoulder even more responsibilities.
To this end, in 2010, she was asked to transfer to the Diocesan Health Center of Doukoula where a maternity ward had been remodeled and refitted under the direction of a nun who had a degree in obstetrics. Agatha’s transfer to this new post was intended as the logical venue to give her a share in the experience which that nun had acquired by running that center for many years in the unusual environment of isolation in the African savanna.
With the opening of the new diocesan hospital of Touloum in November 2011, its Director, Dr. Mbody Jean Pierre insisted on having Agatha head the maternity ward. Unfortunately, some administrative delays due to the sudden resignation of some healthcare personnel at the Diocesan Health Care Center of Doukoula, forced her to postpone her transfer to Touloum.
Finally, in April 2012, Agatha moved to her new post at the diocesan hospital of Touloum to run its maternity ward. Aided by capable colleagues and under the direct supervision of doctors, she has already scheduled prenatal visits and checkups in a way that could be accepted and welcomed as a replacement of traditional methods of birthing used from time immemorial. One has to keep in mind that in this region, inhabited mostly by the Toupouri tribe and by a strong minority of people influenced by Islam, women prefer to give birth at home with traditional methods of birthing. It is only when serious complications arise, (alas, often too late) that they rush to the hospital. It is therefore a priority to do first the groundwork of educating the women to become familiar with what the hospital has to offer in the field of pregnancy healthcare. Unfortunately we cannot expect quick changes, fully aware, as we are, that traditions are hard to be altered and how much they slow down any modification of the ancestral ways. Agatha was born in this cultural milieu and, thus, she knows how to tackle these challenges.
It won’t be easy to make these changes, but our hospital is committed to invest a lot to inform and to educate women in order to reduce significantly the rate of infant mortality which is still very high in this region. Official statistics offer a grim picture of this problem in the north of Cameroon.
Death at childbirth for women in this area is of 669 every 10,000. Of 1,000 babies born, 103 die before their first year of life is completed; an additional 203 die before reaching the age of five. This is worse than the national average of 80 babies out of 1000 dying within their first year of life and an additional 146 children dying before the age of five.
It is true that statistics are somewhat vague, yet they show how delicate birthing and the time right after birth truly are. This is the challenge facing Agatha square in the eyes for years to come. We will be there to assist her in any possible way, providing her with all the means that she deems necessary to carry out her task with success in order to improve the survival rate of both babies and mothers.
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