A Birthing Shelter and Resource Center is a dormitory located near a hospital to provide shelter and education to pregnant women one month before they are due to deliver. For many women and newborns, being near a hospital with emergency obstetrical care can mean the difference between life and death for one or both of them.
The women who would use the shelters are poor and live in rural areas far from a hospital. They can get neither private nor public transport to take them to the hospital when in labor.These shelters (also known as Birth Waiting Homes and Expectant Mothers’ Homes) have been proven to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates# because they relieve women from the need to travel to a hospital when they are in labor. They also reduce maternal morbidity because complications arising from pregnancy, such as anemia, gestational diabetes, and pre-eclampsia can be identified and monitored during the last critical month of pregnancy thereby avoiding dangerous life-threatening situations. The maternal morbidity rates are significant; every year 245,000 women die from problems related to pregnancy in Africa. Infant mortality rates are worse; roughly 600,000 infants die during or shortly after childbirth in Africa.
The effectiveness and need for such shelters is well known. A 2010 report by UNICEF lists birthing shelters as a priority for maternal and newborn care. Without such shelters, heavily pregnant women outside hospitals across Africa and in developing countries have no option but to sleep outside in the rain and the heat, in makeshift or small purchased tents or on simple sleeping mats. For weeks, they do not have access to cooking and bathing areas and they have unreliable access to a toilet. When it is raining, they are unable to start a fire and cook, and go to sleep hungry. The threat of malarial mosquitoes is constant. These “tent cities” are unsanitary, due to lack of cooking and washing facilities, and unsafe, due to animals and theft. The physical and psychological stress these conditions cause cannot be underestimated as they create a great deal of suffering just before the intensely physical demands of childbirth and subsequent care of a newborn.
Shelters in Namibia
The office of Madame Pohamba, First Lady of Namibia expressed interest in having FLCI raise funds for building birthing shelters. As a former mid-wife herself, Madame Pohamba is concerned with maternal health and infant mortality. Since that time, her office has been in communication with FLI, sent approved architectural plans, and builder’s quotes. A FLCI representative flew to Namibia in May 2011 to conduct a birthing shelter feasibility study. On this trip, the representative toured two existing Namibian birthing shelters and saw prospective sites in Outapi and Okongo, Namibia as well as their adjacent hospitals. At the two prospective sites, FLCI staff saw many pregnant women sitting outside, some with tents, waiting for weeks before delivering their babies. Both cities are close to the Angolan border so the shelters will also be accessible by the poor from Angola. Pregnant Angolans frequently cross the border into Namibia to use the medical services.
Madame Pohamba visits the completed Josua Hanyango Maternity Waiting Home in Okongo, Namibia.
Please watch our two-minute video on the birthing shelter project in Namibia.