‘Had I known, I would have saved my babies’: A mother in Nigeria takes control of her family’s health

August 27, 2019

Like many women in Funakaye, in Nigeria’s Gombe State, Asabe Abubakar had never sought health care for herself or her babies during pregnancy. There is a cultural belief among some here that only weak women deliver their babies in the hospital.  

To show she was strong, Asabe gave birth to her first two children at home, and when they became ill, she treated them using local herbs and remedies. Sadly, as a result, both babies died.

“I remember with my first pregnancy, I was in labor for three days before I delivered my child, who unfortunately died three days after birth,” Asabe, in tears, recalls. “Within the same year, I became pregnant again and delivered at home again, but the child died after four months due to diarrhea.”

In 2014, Pact introduced the State Accountability for Quality Improvement Project, or SAQIP, a five-year effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality rates in Gombe State. One of SAQIP’s local partner organizations, Federation of Muslim Women Association in Nigeria, or FOMWAN, supported communities to establish mothers groups. FOMWAN formed 180 groups in three areas.

Asabe learned about the groups through her husband, who attended a community meeting led by FOMWAN in late 2017. He encouraged Asabe to join, explaining that members learn about caring for their children and take part in group microbanks to help them save and earn money to afford quality health care for their families.

When she was four months pregnant with her third baby, Asabe joined the Tsintsiya Mothers Group. She learned that the group also helps women of child-bearing age to learn to read and write.

“From the maternal and neonatal health sessions, I came to know the early signs of pregnancy, danger signs, and the importance of attending antenatal care, delivery at a health facility, personal and environmental hygiene, breastfeeding, nutrition, prevention of early childhood illnesses and immunization,” Asabe says. “This changed my life entirely.”

Asabe Abubakar with her third baby at the local health center.

With the support of her group and the local Ward Development Committee, which shared the same important health information with Asabe’s mother-in-law and husband, Asabe began attending antenatal care sessions. She delivered safely at a primary health care facility in May 2018 and returned regularly for postnatal care. Today, her baby is healthy and has received all required vaccinations.

“With the safe delivery of my child, my husband has shown regret for the first two children we lost due to my delivery at home,” Asabe says. “He now encourages his brothers to allow their wives to attend antenatal care and send their children to the health facility for vaccinations.”