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Chama with a baby she delivered in 2007
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The Democratic Republic of the Congo

“Neighbors came running and said to come quick,” said Chama, a long-time TBA (traditional birth attendant) in the little village of Kiba.  “When I arrived at the home, it was obvious the mother was in labor.”  Chama went on to relate how she had counseled the mother to relocate near the hospital, a long 15 miles away since walking was the only transportation and the mother was expecting twins.  Chama said, “I knew it was too late for her to get to the hospital when I arrived.  I had no assistance, no supplies, and no back-up.”  Then she added, “I prayed!”  She went on to relate how she delivered one baby…then another …then another     it was triplets!   Contrast this one-person delivery to the team of obstetricians, pediatricians, neo-natal nurses, scrub nurses, etc. that would have attended the birth of triplets in a developing country.  The good news is that all three babies and mother are doing well.  The next challenge will be for the babies to survive their first year of life nurtured by a mother who is undoubtedly anemic and surviving on marginal nutrition.

Acknowledged by many as the poorest country in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a mineral-rich, war-torn country that has seen 2.7 million people die as a direct result of its civil war or from the resulting famine and wide-spread disease.1

These conditions frequently prevent communication between Sherri and the Community Health Workers, or Wasaidizi, she initially trained in 1992. In spite of many obstacles, the Wasaidizi maintain their role as volunteer health workers providing whatever health services they can.

They worked tirelessly to stop a debilitating tropical leg ulcer epidemic among the children by making traditional antiseptic from guava leaves. They subsequently became celebrities up and down the Luapula river and were even invited to be consultants in neighboring countries. The Wasaidizi later mobilized the entire community to combat Bilharzia through the building of latrines and the clearing of snail-harboring habitat from the river.

In 2007 when Sherri visited after a lengthy absence she asked them what they considered to be their single biggest need. Knowing their needs were extensive, she expected them to say things like clinics, or a jeep to transport ill people to the hospital, or basic supplies for safe deliveries of babies. Instead she received the unanimous and immediate response, “We need more training and education. We want to be sure we’re providing current and correct health practices, especially in delivering babies.” Subsequently, a 6-month Traditional Birth Attendant training program was arranged at the District hospital for 20 women who now safely deliver hundreds of babies annually.

The Wasaidizi work primarily along the banks of the Luapula River in Kasenga District. They are currently spearheading efforts to make mud bricks for the construction of a small one-room clinic where mothers can deliver their babies. They have also noted the resurgence of Bilharzia with the arrival of new families in their villages and have requested assistance in ramping up a program to address this debilitating and often fatal disease.

1. BBC, October 3, 2009 report

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Chipulukusu School
Zambia, Congo