ABUJA – “I had all my children at home with the assistance of traditional birth attendants (TBAs). Luckily, there were no complications, and so I am alive with my children. However, many women in this community who developed complications and died during childbirth were buried with their children, dead or alive,” said a nursing mother, Hajia Hassan.
A mother of four, Hajia Hassan lives in Bassa Kuomo, an ancient community in Gwagwalada Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The people in this community are said to be the original inhabitants of Gwagwalada before it became the Federal Capital Territory. The community of about 12,000 inhabitants lacks government’s presence; be it healthcare, water, light, roads and other amenities. Poverty is well pronounced as it stinks in the air in this community made up of people predominantly peasant farmers with low yields.
“Many of our women die from complications arising from childbirth. In Bassa Koumo, if a woman delivers and dies during childbirth, the child will be tied to the body of the dead mother and buried alive with her. If the nursing mother should die of any cause without weaning the baby, the baby will be accused of having strange powers that killed the mother; the penalty for this is also death.” One of the people who chose to be anonymous said.
However, these deaths are majorly caused by lack of functional, accessible and affordable healthcare services. Women don’t get antenatal care; they deliver through the help of TBAs and herbalists who lack the technical know-how of taking delivery or what to do in case of emergencies. When death occurs, they say it is the bad luck of the baby that caused the death and the penalty is also the death of the baby.
Saturday INDEPENDENT’s investigation reveals that the inhabitants are glued to this age long traditional practice and the advent of other religions such as Christianity and Islam, has not made much impact in the people’s culture and belief.
Our reporters found out that there are shrines of gods which the people believe could spell doom on the community if evil newborns are not made to pay the price. Although, no one is willing to speak on this frontally, they all confirmed a very high rate of maternal and infant mortality in the area, which they blamed on the absence of health facilities in the community.
Saturday INDEPENDENT, during the course of this investigation, discovered a village square in Bassa Koumo, where all decisions are taken. Most scary of it all was that, at the centre of the square are situated two big trees. It was gathered that the trees are husband and wife. One produces its fruits before the other. The community shrine is located there and that is where the dwellers perform the rituals as members of the community are predominantly traditionalists.
At the palace of Aguma of Gwagwalada, His Royal Highness Mohammed Magaji, represented by Alhaji Muhammad Lakaiye, the District Head, Gwagwalada Town, expressed grave concern about the loss of promising young ladies to deaths arising from complications during childbirth.
He appealed to the Area Council Chairman to provide the community with a Primary Healthcare facility to promptly manage cases of complications among women in labour in Bassa Kuomo.
“The lives of many women are cut short in their prime along with their children because of lack of functional, accessible and affordable healthcare services. This has been ongoing for too long a time. I appeal to the government to wake up to their responsibility by providing us with a Primary Healthcare centre,” he appealed.
The agonising situation of people of Bassa Koumo does not stop at just lack of these essential facilities. Even when they travel the distance to obtain care, they return home with disappointment and frustration.
“The only Township Clinic in Gwagwalada Area Council has been overstretched as it plays host to every community resident in Gwagwalada and its environs. This makes it extremely difficult for our pregnant women to access antenatal care and give birth with the help of skilled birth attendants. Our pregnant women will transport themselves to the Township Clinic as early as possible and will not return until evening; at times they return unattended to. This has discouraged many who now prefer to be delivered through Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) who don’t have the technical knowhow to take delivery,” Lakaiye said.
The spokesman of the Aguma, blamed the unfortunate loss of pregnant women and their babies on the complete neglect of the area by the government. But he would not confirm or explain how the babies who might have survived are put away.
“The case of Bassa Kuomo is most pathetic as we lose many vibrant young women to the cold hands of death including their children every now and then.”
Lakaiye stressed the need for government to urgently provide the community with public, portable drinking water as the communities don’t have access to safe drinking water. “It takes about N40,000 to N50,000 to connect water and Bassa Kuomo people are predominantly farmers and cannot afford it or buy a keg of water for N50. As such, they resort to stream water.”
Another issue that worries Lakaiye is the unavailability of access roads in the community. “Even when we want to quickly rush a complicated matter to the hospital in town, the roads are not motorable and climbing Okada (commercial motorcycle) worsens the situation. Most of the time, we lose the two of them, the mother and the baby,” Lakaiye said, profusely sobbing.
Although the community is facing these challenges, some of the women are fortunate to survive even without any form of medical care or attention. One of such women is Mrs Jemila Shuaibu, a trader. She said through an interpreter that she had all her seven children at home assisted by the TBAs. According to her, maternal deaths are caused by complications from childbirth.
“We do not have a hospital in Bassa Kuomo and when women have complications during childbirth, they are just at the mercy of God and often time they die with their babies.”
According to her, “most women would have loved to have their babies in the hospital, but there are no hospitals here, the closest to this place is in faraway Gwagwalada town. Everyone knows, there is nothing like having access to antenatal and delivery of the baby at the health centre, but what do you do when there is none, the alternative is to go to TBAs and herbalists to have your baby.”
On why she advises pregnant women to go to the hospital when she did not go to the hospital for delivery of her babies, she said she was just lucky.
“Hmm, well, it was God. I tell you it was just God. During my days, women suffer so much in delivering their babies, some died through bleeding with their babies. But those who managed to have access to hospital facilities were very okay, even those who had haemorrhage after childbirth were spontaneously managed and they came back home hail and healthy with their babies. Those who could not afford it died here with their babies. So delivery in the hospital still remains the best option if you ask me,” she said.
Sadly, she recalled how five women died in the hands of TBAs during childbirth, with their children. Again, she would not confirm or talk about how the babies were buried.
Also, a nursing mother, Mrs Salamatu Alhassan, a firewood seller and a mother of four said she had all her children at home with the help of the Traditional Birth Attendants and there were no complications. However, she said. “I did not go to the hospital because people are too many in the hospital and that place is far from our community. It cost N200 to and fro. Most of us don’t have that kind of money to transport ourselves and when we manage to go there, sometimes because of the crowd, they won’t attend to us, we just go there and wait for hours without seeing the doctor and come back home with nothing.”
Salamatu said the greatest thing the government could do for the community now, is to build a primary health care in Bassa Kuomo for pregnant women to get antenatal and deliver in the hospital, adding that it would save the people the stress of going and waiting endlessly and spending money on transport, which could be used for other things.
“There are several women that died from complications arising from childbirth. Even in my house, one died last year and another this year. I remember them vividly because they are my relations and their children too did not survive it,” she remarked.
The women and the men alike are of the view that providing health facilities in Bassa Kuomo will make a difference in the mortality rate of women and children in the area.
Malam Isah Musa, a farmer and a father of three said Bassa Kuomo is in dire need of a hospital to alleviate the sufferings of women who mostly die as a result of complications during childbirth.
“Many women and children have died. In fact, we have lost count of the number of women who have died in this community while giving birth. Maternal mortality is caused by lack of accessible and affordable healthcare services. The only hospital close to this community is far and we can’t afford the transport fare. Besides, it is always a crowded place, so when our women go there they come back home late in the night unattended to. How long can we continue with that kind of life?” he asked.
“About two years ago, five women died. They delivered at home and developed complications. Before they could be rushed to the hospital, they died. The same thing this year. We are not happy about it, losing both mother and child is about the worst thing that can happen to a man,” he lamented.
Like many other respondents in Bassa Kuomo, Isa called on the government to build a primary healthcare centre and employ people from Bassa Kuomo community to man the place. According to him, this will encourage their women to access antenatal care and deliver in the facility.
Isa is of the view that Bassa Kuomo should be given priority in the scheme of things in the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) being the original inhabitants of Gwagwalada.
“There is visibly no development, no hospital to cater for the needs of our pregnant women and children who are left to die; no potable water, most of the community members are predominantly farmers and we don’t have the kind of money the water board is charging for connection, which is about N40,000 to N50,000 per connection,” he appealed.
Similarly, Jubri Zakari, a graduate of Sociology said lack of accessible and affordable healthcare contribute immensely to the death of women and children in Bassa Kuomo, adding that the Township Clinic does not have facilities and drugs to save women who are in need of care.
“Imagine a pregnant woman trekking over 10 kilometres to get to the Townships Clinic, as many of them do not have money for transport. Something urgent should be done,” he pleaded.
“A five-month-old baby was having stomach upset some time ago, we rushed him to the hospital, and for three hours the boy was not attended to and in pains. We could not afford to watch him die just like that, we had to take him to the herbalist who administered some herbal drugs, and in no time the baby was relieved of his pain. You can see we had to resort to a herbalist when we could not find help from the hospital that is even distance away.”
From the story of this community, they are losing a lot of young, promising women trying to give birth in their prime alongside their children. Although the alternative they resort to is the TBAs and the herbalists, there is evidence from the testimonies of the people that the TBAs and the herbalists are losing more women and children than they are able to save. For example, Jubri Zakari gave an instance; a young boy with stomach ache was healed by a herbalist, that was applaudable. However, compare that with the claims of Malam Isa Musa who said they have lost count of the number of women and children that have died because of the absence of a health facility in Bassa Kuomo.
“If we have a hospital in Bassa Kuomo, cases of emergency will be promptly attended to,”
Also, Mrs. Jemila Shuaibu, during an interview recalled how five women died in the hands of TBAs during children birth with their children. She said two of them were her relations.
The community herbalist, ‘ Dr’ Ibrahim Allahgaba, a traditional medicine man said he has attended to so many pregnant women in the community. He said boastfully that those who have been billed for Cesarean sections are able to give birth naturally when he prays and administers herbal concoctions to them. He recalled, that three days ago, a woman was unable to have her baby, and the hospital said she will only deliver through operation. Her father said it was the enemies that did not allow her to have her baby normally.
“I went there and she was able to deliver normally. In fact, she delivered 30 minutes after I had given her herbal concoctions to take.”
The herbalist claimed, “No woman has died in my hands. What I do is once the baby is out, I leave the baby and the mother in the hands of the TBA, who will cut the umbilical cord and do other things.”
However, the amount of money charged by the community herbalist is still out of the reach of most people in the community. “I charge about N25,000 to N30,000 if you are a known person because people come from Abaji, Kwali and other neighbouring communities to be treated,” he said.
Ibrahim Allahgaba does not care if his charges are more than what patients are charged in the hospitals.
“Think of the suffering I suffer to go and get the leaves in the bush and the one I cannot get I buy and I also do ‘night work’ (prayers) if it’s witches and wizards that are affecting the person. I give N5000 to the community for development,” he retorted. However, only Ibrahim can tell how he arrived at the cost charge per patient for his treatment.
But the issue is that if his treatment is as efficacious as he claimed, the cost seems to be out of the reach of Bassa Kuomo people as maternal and infant mortality continues unabated in the area. If people are complaining of N200 to take transport to the hospital in town, asking for N25,000 or N30,000 is like asking them to go and die.
A visit and repeated calls at the office of the Gwagwalada Area Council Chairman by our reporter proved abortive as he was said to be away on official assignment. An in-house person from the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, who preferred to be anonymous said the Area Council Chairman should be contacted as he has received his budget allocation for providing for the people of the area.
While government officials are evading speaking on the plight of the people of Bassa Kuomo, lives are being lost to avoidable deaths, even the lives of newborns. And while government’s presence is absent, the herbalists are having a field day. The TBAs can only do their best, but the question is; that best, is it enough to save the dying pregnant woman in labour and her baby? The people are saying, “Government wake up.”