25 June 2011

Sierra Leone: UNFPA Engages Soweis and TBAs

Freetown — The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has concluded a two-day training on reducing maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and gender based violence for traditional birth attendants (TBAs), FGM initiators locally known as Soweis, maternal child health aides, and civil society activists in the Tonkolili district.

The training was part of the empowerment project launched at the district council hall in Magburaka.

In Mattru Jong, Bonthe district, the team also organized an experience-sharing meeting with TBAs, Soweis and partners. This empowerment programme of the UNFPA is to save the lives of women especially those who are pregnant. Traditional birth attendants, Soweis and maternal child health aides from various parts of the country will receive tools at the end of the training.

According to UNFPA, these participants will be provided with tool kits at the end of the training to carry out their advocacy programmes.

Giving an overview of the empowerment project in the Tonkolili district, UNFPA programme manager for gender, Issatu Kajue stated that the project is to bring together all TBAs, Soweis and maternal child aides to work towards reducing the high rate of maternal mortality and minimize gender based violence cases in the communities.

Madam Kajue insisted that TBAs must transfer pregnant women to nearby government hospitals or health care centers in their communities to deliver their babies. She said UNFPA is also working with religious leaders in the Koinadugu, Bo and Bombali districts and the Western Area in tackling the same issues.

In Bo town at the ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, the gender programme manager met with TBAs and other partners where she was updated on the various activities they have been embarking on in their respective communities.

District health sister for Tonkolili district, Biola Lansana welcomed the news of the empowerment project in Magburaka. She said with this type of project, maternal child health aides will be able to work together in reducing the rate of teenage pregnancy and maternal deaths.

Sister Lansana noted that despite the implementation of the free health care program, pregnant women are still delivering at home and that they only go to the hospital when they encounter serious complications during delivery.

She highlighted that special programs of opportunities for pregnant women to deliver their babies at the hospitals or health care centers have been provided by the government. She appealed to all TBAs and MCH aides to put Sierra Leone on top of the United Nations human development index.

Director of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Fatu Kargbo commended the UNFPA for targeting Tonkolili district where teenage pregnancy is at its highest peak. She said the tool kits provided by UNFPA will allow them to do more advocacies, especially in the areas of family planning, gender based violence and HIV/AIDS awareness raising programmes.

The director told the participants that her ministry is also working within the Three Gender Acts that were enacted into law in 2007. She encouraged everyone to report all gender based violence cases to the family support unit in police stations across the country.

Gender adviser of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, Nasu Fofana advised the TBAs and Soweis to avoid the initiation of children below the consented age of 18 into the Bondo society in their communities.

The experience-sharing meeting in Mattru Jong targeted TBAs and Soweis from twelve chiefdoms where explanation was given about the sensitization campaigns in terms of family planning, gender based violence and the reduction in maternal mortality that they have been embarking on in their various communities.

They also disclosed that with the intervention of UNFPA the high rate of maternal mortality and gender based violence has been reduced within the twelve chiefdoms; as most pregnant women are being referred to health care centers to deliver.

The outreach officer of Marie Stopes Sierra Leone, Betty Musa commended UNFPA for such an intervention in terms of bringing such programme at the doorsteps of people in Bonthe district.

In an interview with Concord Times, programme manager for Gender, Culture and Human Rights at UNFPA noted that she was impressed with the success stories explained by the traditional birth attendants and partners.

She thanked the TBAs and partners for a job well done, adding that her organization will continue to support them in their outreach programmes within their communities.

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