Nine years ago, I could never have conceived travelling to Freetown in Sierra Leone with Aminata Conteh-Biger.
With us are the Aminata Maternal Foundation Chair Penny Gerstle and SBS Dateline journalist and filmmaker Amos Roberts, who is filming a documentary about Aminata and the foundation, which is due to air in Australia in mid-November.
The Aminata Maternal Foundation was launched at a small party in North Sydney on October 15th. Maternal mortality in Sierra Leone is among the worst in the world. A woman in this tiny West-African country is four times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, we had the privilege of meeting Freedom from Fistula Foundation staff member Lois Boyle, who oversees the funding of the Aberdeen Women’s Clinic in the Sierra Leonean capital. Our first project will be to fund a project through the centre to support a group of teenagers who are pregnant, many as a result of being quarantined during the Ebola crisis.
The clinic delivers over two hundred babies a month, attends to 12,000 children a year in the outpatient clinic and perform 1,000 fistula operations. The clinic has a well-earned reputation for managing obstructive labour. The cost of surgery would be a whopping $900, so the service would be out of reach for 99 percent of women. The Aberdeen Women’s Clinic provide the surgery free.
Our visit has two purposes.
The first is the film the documentary. Much of it is related to Aminata’s background as a former refugee from Sierra Leone. Aminata was resettled to Australia by UNHCR after she had been captured by rebels during the civil war and kept as a slave wife.
Today, Aminata and her husband Antoine have two young children Sarafina, 4 and Matisse, 3. It was due to complications during Sarafina’s birth that prompted Aminata to act. Both she and Sarafina nearly lost their lives and had Aminata given birth in Sierra Leone both she and Sarafina would have likely died.
We are also here to meet some of the women who have suffered complications during pregnancy, birthing or post-birthing and to learn about the reality of the situation here and what practical support we can provide to help reduce maternal mortality.