July 16, 2012

Arriving in Liberia

Janeen Drakes (far left) with the 2012 Liberian delegation.
Janeen Drakes,
2012 GHLI fellow

I arrived in Liberia at the beginning of the rainy season. It began with the occasional downpour and has quickly escalated, becoming a nearly constant feature from morning to night. Despite the gloom you would expect it to cast over the city, Monrovia is still lively, upbeat and thriving. People may be a bit delayed but they just seem to take it all in stride. This sort of perseverance seems to permeate Liberia’s culture and its people.

It is evident in everyone I have met so far: the Ministry’s staff working tirelessly to rebuild the country’s health system; the nationals who have returned in recent years with a desire to help rebuild their country; the Lebanese store owner who left a war in his country and chose not to rebuild for a second time; the diligent staff from the various NGOs working in the country; vendors in the market and children who are always dancing in the rain. Despite the numerous setbacks they encounter, they all seem to possess a relentless drive.

Their attitude is inspiring and infectious and one I wish to adopt in my work here and take with me when I leave. My work this summer will focus on the implementation of a pilot project of maternal waiting homes. These homes are designed to give pregnant women who are at high risk and those who live far away a place to stay near health care facilities in the weeks prior to their delivery. Currently, 41% of people live more than 5km from a health facility and the majority of women deliver at home without the help of a skilled attendant.

In a country with few obstetricians, the goal of increasing access to quality care and reducing maternal mortality seems challenging. However, Liberia has learned to leverage the resources it does have to make a difference. Certified midwives, trained traditional midwives and community health volunteers are on the forefront delivering quality care. The maternal waiting homes give pregnant women access to this care and alleviate the burden posed by poor infrastructure. This project is yet another example of how Liberians persevere.

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