The remains of a rotting fetus laid lifeless inside the womb of a woman who chose to deliver her child at a prayer camp in Akplagbanya. Her baby had been dead for days. Her husband, Isaac Doe Ackwerh, says his wife ignored advice doctors gave them about the intended delivery date. A prophetess at a prayer camp, he recalls, told her not to trust the doctors.
“She explained that the prophetess said her due date was not up so the doctors are lying,” the 40-year-old described. “So when I finally decided to pick a vehicle to take her from the prophetess’ camp to a [hospital], the prophetess declined, and my wife endorsed the decision that her time was not due.”
But Isaac’s instincts grew too heavy to bear. Something was wrong. He needed to get his wife out of there – and fast. He rushed to the prayer camp to check on his wife. Several attempts to feel his baby kick failed. He insisted they go to a hospital. She declined.
By force, he drove her to a local hospital only to find her baby died days ago, and she would be next if doctors didn’t perform urgent surgery. Heartbroken by the news, Isaac had to scramble to find the money to save his wife.
A prayer camp signboard in Akplagbanya, one of Accra's coastal communities.
“My heart missed a beat,” said Isaac. “The intensity of the pain in my heart was heavy when I knew that the baby was not kicking in the womb of my wife.”
Isaac’s brother, Emmanuel Ackwerh, recalls the pain he felt when he heard the news.
“What I intended on doing was to burn the camp, whether there were some people sleeping there or not,” said Emmanuel. “I didn’t care because, at that particular time, my heart was boiling because we had lost something precious in the family.”
Although unsuccessful, Isaac chose the ideal route to deliver a healthy baby, but a disturbing trend is brewing in Ghana, where men are encouraging their wives to deliver outside of hospitals. Dr. Kwaku Appiagyei, acting medical superintendent of Nkwanta South Hospital says it’s partly due to cultural norms.
“It is assumed when you give birth in a hospital you are weak. So it is only the weak and the feeble who come to the hospital to come and deliver.”
A woman gives birth at a local hospital in the Volta region, where it holds a maternal mortality rate of 706 per 100,000 live births, considerably higher than the national average.
Seventy-one-year old farmer Mary Tabor offers another viewpoint. Women who commit adultery have difficulty giving birth, and if they deliver at hospitals, it becomes difficult for the child’s father to know if the mother was unfaithful, Mary says. So men prefer home deliveries since “it will be easier for the man to ascertain if his wife cheated on him.”
She continued: “The other reason has to do with money. Because of poverty, some of the men would want their wives to deliver at home so they don’t have to pay bills anywhere.”
It’s a problem substantial enough to raise the eyebrows of Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Director General of the Ghana Health Service. He is aware of activities at these prayer camps and is urging health officials to act fast.
“It is the belief and the trust [built] in the people at the prayer camps. So I told the community health services and the public nurses to go there. If they will not come to you, go there and deliver.”
Nsiah-Asare’s urgency to the matter yielded results.
Joy News' Seth Kwame Boateng speaks with health professionals in the Volta region.
According to Nkwanta Municipal Health Director Dr. Laud Boateng, he and his team have saved 235 lives. Since November 2017 when Joy News first visited the hospital, there has been only one reported death related to childbirth.
He says community engagement, heightened emergency response and improved transport facilitation helped them rescue the lives of these women.
Death by the numbers
According to a United Nations report, there are an estimated 378 deaths per 100,000 live births. The study finds that Ghana is unlikely to reach its targeted goal to reduce that number to 185 per 100,000 live births. Why? A survey indicates it’s in large part due to limited access to skilled birth attendants. Only 70 percent of pregnant women have access to them.
Of these deaths, most come from Ghana’s Volta region, the fourth poorest region in the country, according to the World Health Organization. The area holds a maternal mortality rate of 706 per 100,000 live births, considerably higher than the national average.
A man and woman sleep on the sandy floors of a prayer camp.
An even stronger cause for concern is where Africa stacks up on the global scale. Of the 830 women who die every day from childbirth-related complications, more than half come from sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is certainly not at the level that we want,” says Dr. Yaw Ofori Yeboah, Deputy Director in charge of Public Health in the Volta region. “There is a lot of room for improvement, and as you can imagine, maternal health is at the core of the health sector. Where we are, we are not comfortable.”
One of the problems, says Dr. Bernard Hayford Atuguba, a medical superintendent at Battor Catholic Hospital, is the methods they use to pray and deliver babies at these prayer camps.
“They do all these things on the bare sandy floor so when somebody bleeds you will not be able to quantify the amount of blood lost,” says Dr. Bernard Hayford Atuguba, a medical superintendent at Battor Catholic Hospital, adding that when they begin to lose blood they, “keep on with their prayers until they go into shock. Before they are referred to our institutions most of them are already gone.”
About 40 percent of women who died from childbirth complications last year were at prayer camps, he says.
But Grace Buaelor, a prophetess and midwife at the prayer camp where Doris’ son was born says, she doesn’t “experience any complications. In the name of God, I didn’t experience any problems. People always go to the hospital, but, when it’s time to deliver, they come over here.”
She says the Holy Spirit has allowed her to deliver more than 200 babies.
Ghana loves babies, says Dr. Peace Mamle Tetteh, senior lecturer at the University of Ghana’s Sociology Department. So much so, that some Ghanaians look down upon women who don’t have any.
“We say that as Africans or Ghanaians we are a pro-natal society,” she says.
The reason is multi-pronged, but she says it boils down to three factors: monetary, custom and culture.
Economically, "people want children [so they can] work on the farm,” the professor says.
Traditionally, “if you have children then you qualify to be called an ancestor. If you are childless, you cannot be an ancestor.”
But mainly, she believes Ghanaians emphasize childbirth because “that is how society is able to continue – the continuation of the lineage. So if you have a family and you have a wife who cannot have children, or a man who cannot have children, then in a way there is a termination at some point.”
The societal pressure becomes too heavy for some, who eventually wind up at prayer camps. For them, risking it all in the name of a child is a peril they’re willing to take, even if it means death.
It’s a solemn nod to Frederick Torgbor Sai, a Ghanaian academic who told scholars Sylvester Z. Galaa, Umar Haruna and Gordon Dandeebo in a report that “no nation sends its troops to war without guaranteeing their safe return, however for generations, men have been sending women to war to replenish the human stock without guaranteeing their safe return.”
Watch Part 1 of the series here:
Story by Ghana | Myjoyonline.com | Zaina Adamu | Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @ZainaAdamu