MDG 5: Maternal health matters in Murreh Kunda, The Gambia

This post originally appeared on Tostan’s website here. Reposted with permission.

By Courtney Petersen

“We have not experienced any maternal or infant deaths in this community since the training of our Community Management Committee,” Kumba Jambah Wally and Satang Wally, traditional birth attendants in the community of Murreh Kunda, in the Upper River Region of The Gambia.

While participating in Tostan’s holistic, nonformal education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), women, men, and adolescents in Murreh Kunda learned about their human rights, including their right to health. Among other things, they discussed simple and practical ways to greatly reduce disease and death for children and adults and, specifically emphasizing maternal health, they learned how to ensure a safe pregnancy and reduce the risks of delivery.

This new knowledge on health helped guide the Community Management Committee (CMC), a 17-member democratically-selected group trained to lead development projects, to identify improving maternal health – Millennium Development Goal 5 – as a critical need in their community.

The CMC works collaboratively with the local Reproductive and Child Health clinic to raise awareness about maternal health issues and the free care that the clinic provides. CMC coordinator Teneng Jallow shared that the Murreh Kunda CMC also funded the reconstruction of the clinic’s roof after the last rainy season, and every month the community’s social mobilization team visits every home in the village to encourage the women to go for prenatal consultations. Because of these visits, 165 pregnant women have now attended prenatal consultations.

The CMC and social mobilization team continuously conduct awareness-raising activities focused on promoting good health practices in Murreh Kunda and in 11 surrounding communities that also use the clinic. Through this outreach, women are made aware of the recommended vaccinations and malaria prophylaxes available for the first three months of the pregnancy as well as other good health practices, such as sleeping under treated mosquito nets, eating nutritious food, and hygiene.

Teneng Jallow also explained how these outreach activities share information about human rights and the negative health consequences of practices affecting women, including female genital cutting and child/forced marriage – practices the community publicly abandoned in 2009. She says, “With the coming of the Tostan program and trainings for the CMC, we are now conducting awareness-raising activities in Murreh Kunda and adopted communities in order to reinforce the knowledge gained in the program.”

The CMC also partners with other stakeholders in the community, such as the traditional birth attendants, community nurse, and the National Nutrition Agency (NaNa) committee. These partnerships help reinforce action taken to support maternal health locally. For example, if a pregnant woman is found to be malnourished, the NaNa committee will go to her and share information about nutritious food, and the CMC will help the woman financially to buy any needed supplies.

Murreh Kunda’s commitment to improving maternal health not only benefits their community, but also all those communities that they reach through awareness-raising activities, visits, and local partnerships. As their initiatives build momentum, they are able to contribute to large-scale improvements to the health of women.