On the last full day of our field trip to Cameroon, we attended a vaccination session at the health centre in Bertoua and visited the regional hospital where I really hoped the delivery suites would be better than those we had seen so far.
The vaccination session confirmed what I had already learnt during my week in Africa: the message about tetanus was getting through and women were turning up to be vaccinated even if that meant travelling long distances.
Yet the birthing conditions at the hospital, considering they were supposed to be the best in the area, were alarming. Although the gynaecologist’s consulting room looked highly clinical and hygienic, the delivery suites (one of which could accommodate three women giving birth at the same time) were hot, unhygienic and contained metal beds which looked horrific. As I left one room I noticed a dirty red rag lying on the floor. Again, there were no resuscitation facilities, no oxygen, not even a bag and mask for those babies needing extra help.
It seemed then running water and a metal bed was the best on offer in Cameroon when it came to giving birth. A delivery at the regional hospital cost US$12. A full ante-natal check and basic health screening cost US$50 which is beyond what the majority of women can afford. Living in conditions of extreme poverty, it is not surprising that the majority of women have to give birth at home with no professional support in conditions which are unhygienic at best and life-threatening at worse.
Having spent time with new mothers, expectant women, traditional birth attendants, social mobilisers, doctors and a range of health professionals, and having witnessed the conditions in which the majority of families live and the conditions in which women give birth, it is clear that to be vaccinated against tetanus is an absolute necessity.
As we returned to the relative luxury of our hotel in Yaoundé, my thoughts returned to home, to my child and my life, a world away from this one. The field trip had been an amazing experience -- emotional, educational, shocking, sobering, thought-provoking, life-changing. Within 24 hours I would be back in the familiar surroundings of home, yet knowing I would never forget these communities.
I always will.
The Pampers and UNICEF campaign runs from October to December. For every Pampers product purchased with the “1 pack = 1 life-saving vaccine” logo, Pampers will donate the cost of one vaccine to UNICEF. Additionally, by visiting the Pampers Village website and clicking on the Big Kiss button, a ‘virtual kiss’ will be sent to Pampers and UNICEF. For every ‘virtual kiss’ sent, Pampers will make an additional donation to UNICEF. Helping to eliminate a disease as deadly as tetanus really is as simple as that.