Maternal Health in Liberia (or lack thereof)

An alarming report from IRIN brushes a broad picture of the state of maternal health and child mortality in Liberia – reading reports such as these strengthens my belief that Liberian refugees in Buduburam might be better off not repatriating quite so quickly… Excerpt:

“New statistics showing an increase in maternal mortality since the end of Liberia’s civil war in 2003 have created alarm among health workers who say the country’s almost non-existent healthcare system is to blame […]The new results, which come from the Liberia Demographic and Health Survey (LDHS) for the years 2006 to 2007, show that deaths among infants and children under five years old have gone down since the last survey was conducted in 1999 to 2000. However maternal mortality has gone up by about 71 percent with 994 women dying for every 100,000 who give birth, compared to 580 out of every 100,000 women in the previous survey. Doctors say the most common cause of death is vaginal hemorrhaging following childbirth.”

The average maternal mortality rate for Sub-Saharan Africa is 900 deaths for 100,000 births, and the global rate reaches a staggering 400 deaths/100,000 births (in comparison, developed countries have a rate of 9 deaths/100,000 births). Liberia has a truly dismal rate – and what’s particularly shocking from this report is that it’s actually worse than it was during the war… (UNFPA Maternal Mortality Statistics)

Of course, maternal mortality figures are not the ultimate measurement of a country’s post-conflict reconstruction progress, but it is very indicative of the slow pace of change that Liberia is experiencing. Reading the most recent progress report of the UN Secretary-General on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), it’s very clear that the situation in Liberia is far from ideal.

“Liberia has become a generally stable country in a volatile sub-region. However, the prevailing peace is very fragile, and Liberia is still susceptible to lawlessness. The most immediate threats to sustained peace and stability in Liberia at this stage include increasing violent criminal activities, especially armed robbery and rape; the limited capacity of the security sector to curb violent crime; the weak justice system; the limited capacity of key national institutions to deliver on the promised peace dividend; the proliferation of disaffected groups such as unemployed ex-combatants, deactivated soldiers and police personnel, and elements from the dismantled irregular militias; economic insecurity, in particular youth unemployment; resurfacing ethnic and social cleavages; and the perception by some that the Government is not genuinely pursuing national reconciliation”

Thinking back to the women’s protest in Buduburam, this comforts me in the idea that local integration efforts for Liberian refugees in Ghana need to be further developed – it seems so obvious that Liberia does not have the capacity to absorb tens of thousands of returnees (even if they each have $1,000 in cash – which they won’t.) In fact, the Government of Liberia should communicate this to the refugee population, whether in Ghana or elsewhere. Life as a refugee is certainly difficult, but life in Liberia will probably be even harder – particularly for those who have been gone for a very long time, and who need to rebuild their entire livelihoods from the ground up.

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