Fish Town — River Gee County - Health authorities in River Gee County have told a visiting delegation comprising Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Ingrid Wetterqvist, UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi and the Assistant Minister of Health for Curative Services, Dr. Gorbee Logan that maternal mortality rate in the county has reduced significantly in recent times.
At a town hall meeting in Fish Town, the County Health Officer of River Gee, Dr. Trokon Washington said unlike in previous years where the average maternal deaths were between 18 and 20, the county has not recorded any death in 2021, and only two deaths were recorded in 2020.
Dr. Washington attributed the drastic decline in maternal mortality to the robust intervention of a multifaceted reproductive health program, the 'Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Services to Young people' funded by the Swedish Government through UNFPA, and implemented by BRAC Liberia in Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru and River Gee Counties.
"Because of the assistance they are giving us, teenage pregnancy has reduced significantly and maternal death has dropped greatly," Dr. Washington said while hailing the Swedish Embassy, UNFPA and BRAC. "Last year was only two, but this year none. Prior to the intervention we used to have 18 to 20 maternal deaths," he added.
A key component of the program, Dr. Washington said, is the construction of the Youth Friendly Centers at major health facilities where free and basic reproductive health services are offered exclusively to adolescent females and males.
Some of the services rendered at the centers include family planning, antenatal care, delivery of pregnant adolescents, HIV counseling and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
Others include the provision of psychosocial support services, outreach to provide adolescent health services, and health and sexuality education and information.
In addition to the youth friendly centers, several health clubs have been set up at various schools where students are actively engaged and educated about their sexual and reproductive health rights, and encouraged to make use of the centers to avoid unwanted pregnancy. UNFPA, through funding from the Swedish Embassy has supported the ministry of education to include sexuality education in the new curriculum produced by the ministry.
Unlike in the past where adolescents were ashamed to visit the health centers for these basis family planning services, Dr. Washington said the number of young people accessing the youth friendly centers has now increased, and that has led to a drop in teenage pregnancy. The trigger down effect of the decrease in teenage pregnancy is the low maternal mortality rate currently being experienced within the project counties, he said.
He thanked the Swedish Embassy in Liberia for its many development initiatives in Liberia, especially to the health sector.
Speaking at the event, Ambassador Wetterqvist said the statistic was an 'amazing accomplishment' by the key actors including UNFPA, BRAC-Liberia and the Ministry of Health through the County Health Team.
She said her government's support to sexual and reproductive health rights for all, especially women and girls, is tied to the Finish Government's feminist foreign policy which calls for women representation in decision making, access to resources and the realization of their rights.
"We are looking at women because our Minister of Foreign Affairs back home has asked us to focus on the feminist foreign policy. This means taking on the gender glasses and looking at how different life is for women and girls through access to representation, access to resources and the realization of their rights (the three Rs)," she averred.
She mentioned that the Swedish government's program for young people that involves sexual and reproductive health rights is "killing many birds with one stone," and focuses on the importance of women education and representation in Liberia.
By addressing the menace of teenage pregnancy, maternal deaths will reduce and more girls thrive in a healthy community and stay in school, she said.
She thanked Senator Company B. Wesseh of River Gee County, Superintendent Philip Q. Nyenuh and the citizens for the warm reception on her trip to the Southeastern region which was developed in collaboration with Senator Wesseh, UNFPA, the Ministry of Health and BRAC. The trip has been an eye-opener for her, she said.
Accentuating Women's Leadership Role
The joint delegation also held series of town halls across River Gee County. At a meeting with community leaders, women, youth groups and administrators of the Webbo Teacher Training Institute (WRTTI), Ambassador Wetterqvist reinforced the call for women education, employment and peace and security.
She described female representation at the decision making table as an 'important component' in the governance of the state.
She noted that Liberia is still lacking behind when it comes to the promotion of female representation given there are only two women senators among 28, and only eight are in the House of Representatives which has 73 seats.
"With the level of representation at the Legislature, it shows that the women do not have a form of rights as the men, so they need to find other way to get at the decision making table to make their voices and concerns heard," she said, adding, "It is important to have women in parliament to give them the opportunity to debate and discuss resources and speak about the development of the country."
She said "a country like Liberia, with all it challenges and legacies from the civil war has a lot of rebuilding and needs a lot of things to be put in place including education, health, agriculture and roads." And this cannot be achieved without the inclusion of women at the table.
River Gee County Senator Commany Wesseh, also speaking, lauded Ambassador Wetterqvist and the Swedish Government for its immense support and pledged the citizens' commitment to take ownership of the program to continue yielding fruitful results.
Dr. Logan said the news was welcoming and called on the community to work collectively to ensure that teenage pregnancy and maternal deaths reduced to zero. The news that more adolescents are now visiting the youth friendly centers was welcome as it will serve as a milestone in the reduction of teenage pregnancy and promote save sex and healthy life among young people. He encouraged the youth to make use of the centers to benefit from basic services that are been provided.
"Adolescents used to be ashamed to go for family planning. But with the youth friendly centers, they can freely go and get their family planning and other services. Through that mean, teenage pregnancy has reduced and children can stay in school,"
Speaking further, he made a passionate appeal to Ambassador Wetterqvist to extend the embassy's support through UNFPA to Rivercess County which, he said, has a high teenage pregnancy rate, saying: "Madam Ambassador, please extend your tentacle to Rivercess County because the situation there is alarming."
The UNFPA Country Representative, Dr. Ndyanabangi expressed thanked and appreciation to the community for embracing the program and ensuring it is successfully implemented.
"The news that maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy are reducing is a good news. We are really excited and appreciated that the work we are doing here is yielding result. Thank you for helping us save lives," he averred.
He also thanked the Swedish Embassy for its immense support to the community through UNFPA in the health and education.
A call to Support Census 2021
Also speaking at several stops on the tour, Dr. Ndyanabangi called on residents to support the government and partners in ensuring successful conduct of the upcoming census.
He underscored the importance of the census as data collected will be used by officials and policymakers to make informed decision and drive development. He thanked the Swedish government through its Embassy for supporting the project through UNFPA.
The UNFPA Country Representative said the project is currently in the data collecting stage and hundreds of geographic mappers have been deployed in various counties including River Gee to map the entire country.
He urged the citizens to cooperate with the team on the field for the successful completion of the mapping exercise which will pave the way for the enumeration exercise.
"We need the information so that the Government and your Superintendent can plan for you. If you see the people coming, please welcome and work with them," he urged.