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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Being pregnant in Africa
The United Nations together with all the world's countries and leading development institutions agreed on eight anti-poverty goals at the start of this century. They called them the Millennium Development Goals and their due date is 2015.

With the fifth aim of improving maternal health in mind, the BBC's Africa Live asked what it is like being pregnant in Africa.

Read the views below and then send us your comments using the form at the end of the page.


Queues in a crowded hospital
Shuttie found it difficult juggling her work with hospital visits

Having been pregnant and given birth to four healthy boys I was all right but the same cannot be said for many others.

Many a time mothers have their pregnancies terminated by natural causes that could have been prevented if medical facilities were adequate.

Sometimes the antenatal clinics do not diagnose misplaced foetuses on time and as a result mother and child do not survive through the birth pangs.

In rural Africa, food shortages contribute to under-weight mothers and babies whose immune systems fail to combat disease.

Personally I had problems not with my first or second, but with my last two babies.

As a working mother, you have to juggle your work with visits to your local hospital.

We should not have babies once we are over 30

They are so crowded that by the time you are finally attended to, there is not much time left for you to go and convince your boss that you are invaluable. Thus mothers tend to forgo the doctor's visit and stick around the office.

During my third pregnancy, I collapsed at work because my haemoglobin count dropped down to six.

I was in hospital for days.

Supposing I was back home in the village, how would I have been resuscitated in a place that has no electricity let alone clean water?

My last child also gave me problems but in a way, I think it was because I was 35-years-old and women in Africa should know better. We should not have babies once we are over 30.


Poverty is the main problem.

Imagine a mother who doesn't have a square meal a day yet struggles to save some income for clinical check-ups. How many check-ups do you think she will be able to afford?

And then there is bribery and corruption in the health field.

Some months back a woman I knew of died after giving birth. She had delivered safely and all was looking well until she began to experience some complications.

She did not make it because her husband did not have the money needed as a bribe for the doctor to fill his car with fuel.


British Airways 747 passenger jet
A minister can send a close relative to have her baby overseas

Being pregnant in Africa is so tragic if you come from a poor family. Either God will help you deliver safely or by bad luck you or the baby will die during childbirth.

Only those who have the money to afford the hospital and clinic fees can be cared for by specialists.

A minister can send a close relative to have her baby overseas whereas the poor women are expected to deliver in the remote village under the supervision of local medicine women.

It is only because of the strong beliefs in some kind of spiritual power and the natural desire to have children that keeps the hope of a poor pregnant woman alive.


Being pregnant in Africa is like watching the sun going down before you get home.

Zambezi River
In Zambezia province you have to cross a river to get to the clinic

It is all gloomy and there is no light shining down the way - only uncertainty and desperation.

African nations must fight against all odds to extend health care to those who remain far from reach.

In Zambezia, Mozambique's central province, people must cross the Zambezi River to receive medical care.

The crossing takes three days.

Some of the pregnant don't make it in time. They either give birth on the slow sailing boats or even find death before reaching the other side of the river.


Pregnancy is a fearful and life-threatening thing to most African women especially those living in remote areas.

Lack of maternal education is one among many reasons.

Nurse checking a mother-to-be's blood pressure
Anneth says that many mothers cannot afford to go for check-ups

Age is a factor too. It is not uncommon to find very little girls pregnant, they themselves still children.

Often long distances must be travelled to reach health centres. Women close to giving birth start walking the long distance to the clinic but then some end up having their babies along the way. This is obviously unsafe and many die in the process.

One cannot deny that poverty is behind maternal deaths.

Here poverty can be looked at in two perspectives. One is poverty at the family level where services at health centres cost more than what they have and secondly it is seen at government level.

In Africa a lot of the time you find that there are few hospitals or sometimes even none at all in remote areas even though many women live there.

Poor economic development especially in villages discourages midwives and doctors from working in those areas and as a result women fail to have qualified people attend to them.


Until stark poverty is significantly beaten down and African women are empowered economically, we might as well forget any dream of improving maternal and its concomitant morbidity.

Women are everything in Africa.

They are the mother, the father, the bread-winners and just about anything else in our society - empower them economically and there would be no maternal deaths.


I am an African woman who has not ever seen what there is in the West.

Midwife checking a mother-to-be in the UK
Mutuo does not know what it is like being pregnant in the West

I have been pregnant twice and both times I gave birth to healthy babies. Within a short time after each birth I was also well myself.

During my second pregnancy the doctor told me something that surprised me.

He told me that three-quarters of the women in Nairobi give birth at home and very few of those children or the mothers die from complications. The complications mainly arise later as a result of untreated illnesses and poor diets.

I think that the more we adopt the western way of treating pregnancy like a disease opposed to our African way of thinking of it as a rite of passage, the more the deaths will increase.

Our mothers and grandmothers gave birth in their homes and were able to go back to work in a day and bring up healthy babies, and so must we.

Poverty and irresponsible men are also to blame for the increase in maternal deaths.


I believe maternal death can be stopped provided the men who make women pregnant realise that giving birth is a battle and the women ought to have up-to-date ammunition such as good feeding, spacing of babies, good physical and emotional health with physical support.

Their husbands should love them even more through the period of pregnancy.

If you would like to comment on these viewpoints please use the form below to send us your views.

This forum is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

To them women are just stepping stones that are used to acquire wealth
Martha Akello, Soroti

Fair distribution of resources is needed to avert this problem. Recently our president sent his daughter to have a baby in some European country using state funds which would have been enough to upgrade a number of health centres in our villages. Not until our leaders stop taking us for granted will maternal mortality rate drop. To them women are just stepping stones that are used to acquire wealth. Our welfare stops to matter to them when they get what they want.
Martha Akello, Soroti, Uganda

I am not a woman, I am not pregnant but I fear for all pregnant women in Africa especially Nigeria. It was friend who had been admitted to a hospital that first alerted me to the magnitude of maternal mortality. The health facilities are not good enough. Government should provide better facilities as well as well trained and paid medical personnel.

Indeed I praise women, especially those who have conceived for the first time, for their courage. The stories of their experiences in hospital is chilling to say the least and more could be done to improve their lot before pregnancy becomes another major killer of young women.
Akuluouno William, Nigeria

Mutuo Mbilla from Kenya brings up a very important point. Being pregnant is not a disease it is part of being a woman. Pregnancy should be treated as such. Women in Africa should instead focus on taking care of the health of the child and themselves. For many many centuries women gave birth (normally without going for checkups).

African women should instead focus on resources around them (traditional midwives etc). As the world around them changes so should their means of support - depending on a hospital doctor to tell you how well you are doing should be left for those who have that as an option.
Ciku, Kenya

I read the first story of the Zambian woman and when I finished the second one about an aeroplane, tears stated to flow from my eyes straight to my laptop space bar. Honestly if the conflict and killing doesn't stop, only those who are close to ministers, will survive and their babies too.

Lastly, my question is why do these African women keep falling pregnant while they can see their situation and understand it. I'm a young South African who was born healthy from a healthy mother who is a midwife in a private hospital, but when I see such things happening to our mothers in other countries I start to cry. Greed is killing the continent.
Tshifhiwa Luvhengo, South Africa, Limpopo

Remote villages are not necessarily doomed
Tendayi Chaibva, Lusaka

While I do agree that healthcare is poor in Africa. Remote villages are not necessarily doomed. There is the alternative of maximizing the uses of traditional methods, where a midwife can assist a young woman through her pregnancy. These midwives are skilled through custom and traditional methods of motherhood.

I believe that the reliance on western medicines and the shunning of midwives due to the fact that they may not have certificates, degrees and diplomas tends to undermine their achievements or medical work. Sure one may say new methods are best, but I argue that old ones are not so bad and should be encouraged where new ones will not be available any time soon.

I think that there maybe traditional methods of mothering that are free and need not be ignored completely. Promoting the use of both western and traditional methods would greatly reduce the costs of mothering and the reliance on hospitalized structures in Africa.
Tendayi Chaibva, Lusaka, Zambia

Unsafe delivery is so much embedded in the psyche of our women folk and the community at large that in Sierra Leone, no-one will ever accept that she is pregnant even if it is very obvious. They are never sure that they will deliver their babies alive or the child may not be born alive. Coupled with the high cost of delivery in very distant hospitals and local unsanitary delivery depots, our women folk do risk having babies. Anyone who hears or reads this comment should turn to any female and say, "thanks you are my hero".
Henry Williams, California/Sierra Leone

The issue of maternal deaths is brought about by the ongoing tendency of qualified medical people leaving the continent. African governments should invest more on medical professionals, and thus ensure their people better healthcare services. Another factor is the lack of education among communities. Women should be educated about the importance of going for check-ups from the first day of their pregnancies as to eliminate difficulties during the delivery stage.
Caesar Nkambule, South Africa

Pregnancy and child bearing in Africa is not a blessing but a curse. Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, shortage of healthcare workers and absence of health facilities in some rural areas are at the centre of all this. In some parts of Africa the selfishness of some political leaders and briberies contribute a lot.
Masego, Gaborone, Botswana

It's very unfortunate that in this day and age, an average African pregnant woman does not seek antenatal services when pregnant. The majority women don't know their existence and importance, and those that know, cannot afford the costs involved thus resort to traditional birth attendants who may not have the required experience. Therefore, African governments should invest in the training and equip traditional birth attendants and slowly all African men and women will understand the importance of visiting antenatal clinics and the impact of having many children.
Penny Mbabazi, Uganda

I do think better healthcare is needed in Africa. I have never been pregnant, but I have witnessed my sister-in-law deliver a baby at home. This is very common, or was, while I was home. I'm pretty sure that it still is since the rate of health care is still considerably unaffordable for the majority of people. However, I have never heard of such stark circumstances as described by some of these women. But again, I imagine it's all an issue of location.
Wunmi, USA

Which of the UN goals is most important to you?
Extreme poverty
Primary education
Gender equality
Child mortality
Maternal health
Combating disease
Environmental issues
Economic development
17596 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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