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Opinions of Friday, 30 December 2011

Columnist: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi

Mrs Naadu Mills Owes Angelina A Graveyard Explanation

She was not quite 34, but she had done well for herself and her family. She had done it three times–child birth, I mean–and had been successful, affording the man in her life the rare privilege of being a father to three beautiful children. She was going to have a fourth. She actually had the child. Mum looked normal. Baby was just about okay. She was supposed to be resting after the ordeal. Or, so the nurses wished. Well, she was gone, another sad case of maternal mortality. But Angelina was more than a statistic; the baby also followed her mum. A proud husband has lost a dear wife and a child…all in one day in Ghana’s second cosmopolitan city.

Suddenly, it is a miracle to go to the labour ward and return home with your baby. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the baby is healthy or not, because you are lucky to have an incident free delivery in Ghana these days. In a space of 4 months, I have lost three very close friends to maternal deaths. First was Gloria Saamah, a flourishing banker at the Sunyani branch of the National Investment Bank. A former girl’s prefect of Dormaa Secondary School, she had individuated herself most admirably and become a good reference point for great achievers in her locality. A blissful marriage followed years of service to the Catholic church of Sunyani. Folks had described her as a fine person who would pour rose water on a toad any day, and still reserve enough water for the donkey. Sunyani wailed at her loss.

Next to follow was Vivian, a classmate at the primary school level. She almost made it home after what appeared to be a safe delivery. She saw her second boy, held him in her arms and sang him couple of lullabies. While Jaeden (a beautiful name for a boy, picking the rhythm from Jordan, his older brother) was reported to be laughing in his crib, mum slowly passed on after earlier raising concern about very unusual abdominal pains. She had completed an Executive MBA programme just two month before, bravely pressing on through those difficult moments of pregnancy. Even when single men and women left the programme citing too much work, Vivian soldiered on. Today, her engineer husband and sons stare at her photos and swallow their thoughts. Little Jaeden is yet to know mummy’s whereabouts.

Angelina’s sad news had come just a week after another friend lost his wife to what has now become a daylight sniper. There had been a few complications during the pregnancy, but Anita seemed to have pulled through. Antenatal reports had not been very discouraging. A name had been chosen for the child. They didn’t care whether it was a boy or a girl; they were just excited to get a child. Nature had called before her time was due. It was a caesarean assisted delivery. Mark wouldn’t sit down; the proud father would pace around the corridors until he almost became an obstruction to the nurses. Then, suddenly he sat, his head in his palms, unable to talk or come to terms with any form of reality. Anita is gone, too.

Who is next? We don’t want anymore. And we must make our disgust count this time. CARMMA (Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa) is the latest initiative put together to express this concern. The First Lady, Mrs Ernestina Naadu Mills, must not stop at the launch of CARMMA; she should make this a lifelong project, whip up support from every concerned quarter, to end this dreadful debacle.

CARMMA came too late, however well-intentioned. Is our health delivery system too poor to guarantee our wives and sisters any hope of life when they go into labour? Well, for those who cannot afford to pay to see private doctors, the system is pretty dangerous. The queues at the 37 Military Hospital are usually very long. To see a doctor early means waking up early to join up. With hundreds of patients to see one doctor, medical attention is rationed like electric energy. And doctors are profiteering in ways that are not exactly dishonourable, but quite intriguing. After joining the long queues for some three hours, my pregnant cousin was advised by a doctor to get ‘proper’ attention at his private hospital if she wanted quality care. There, they unleash the full extent of their medical knowhow to justify the millions the patient had forked out. What happens to those in the queues?

At our public hospitals, it is reported that women in labour do not have beds to rest their tired bodies. The very poor ones make do with the hospital corridors when the beds are full. Death is not such a shocking experience in these hospitals. Needless deaths–of mothers and children we do need most desperately–of Angelina, of Gloria, of Vivian and of Anita. These may have died heroes because they may have helped in the creation of an entire generation. But their death is not any nobler. To die when bringing forth life is the most painful memory ever. The death of a mother is a sad thing, but it is not the death that hurts; it is the process of dying.

Even in her grave, Angelina Konadu, formerly of Sunyani Secondary School, deserves a big Mazal Tov for carrying divine favour as a wife, fulfilling destiny as a mother and bringing meaning to life as a daughter.
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin is a journalist. He lives in Ottawa, Canada, where he is involved in partner relations and outreach management.