It’s an isolated moment of bliss for Mireille Etanka. The 23-year-old cradles her newborn baby, Marvelous -a smile sweeping her face.
But she had not always been a happy woman.
Nine months ago, she lost her twins at birth. The children came prematurely, and she admits to not engaging the services of a gynecologist.
“I was devastated,” she recalls. With hospitals ill-equipped to deal with premature babies at the time, it’s still unlikely that the children would have survived even if she got to the hospital in time.
Eight months after that loss, she was again facing the specter of losing another set of twins-again at birth. For a second time, she was to give birth to a set of twins, and it was again a case of premature delivery.
This time around though, she was lucky, thanks to a World Bank-sponsored project, the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility, PEF.
Mireille says when she started feeling waist pains; she rushed to the Limbe Regional Hospital where the nurses told her she was already in labor.
“They tried to stop the contractions, but it didn’t work so they said that they would just have to allow me to give birth. So, I gave birth to twins-two girls, but I lost one.”
She might have lost the two children, but the PEF project supported by UNICEF has buoyed the capacities of the few hospitals that still operate in Cameroon’s war-ravaged regions to be able to deal with such cases.
Vivian Mbone, Ward Charge at the neonatal unit at the regional hospital in Limbe explains that the Hospital now has the equipment and the trained personnel to use “the Kangaroo method” to take care of babies born prematurely.
“Kangaroo method is a kind of care that involves skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the baby. The baby is completely naked, and the mother is naked upward. So, when you do kangaroo care we want to improve the breeding of the baby, heart rate of the baby, the sleeping time, and the bonding between the mother and the baby,” she told Timescape Magazine.
This has been made possible, thanks to Kangaroo bags and Kangaroo beds supplied to the Hospital through the PEF Project.
“Ever since we received the kangaroo bags, we can receive premature children from other health facilities which don’t have the equipment,” Mbone said.
Caroline Endeley, the Coordinator of the Reproductive Health Component of the PEF Project says it’s led to significant reductions in infant and maternal mortality in the war-ravaged Anglophone regions aka Southern Cameroons.
Her conclusion draws from studies carried out between 2014-2018 before the project that demonstrated exceptionally high numbers of women and children dying during childbirth.
Cameroon is among the countries with the highest maternal mortality levels, at 782 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in sub-Saharan Africa.
While hospitals remained ill-equipped to deal with premature babies, the armed conflict in Southern Cameroons worsened the situation by preventing pregnant women from going to the hospital.
The PEF project has somehow limited the damage in the region.
“We selected healthcare workers who could give better care to these children. We trained fifty healthcare workers to take care of these children, to improve their health situation from pregnancy to delivery and after delivery. A few weeks have passed. We did an analysis since the project is ending and we realized that the neonatal deaths, as well as the maternal death rates, have drastically dropped.”
Mireille hasn’t forgotten about the three children she has lost, but her grief has been cushioned by the one who survived.
“I can’t thank the doctors and nurses enough,” she says, noting that she was fearful of losing the two children for a second time.