How improved access to prenatal care is saving lives in Burundi

A free ride in an ambulance to the Village Health Works clinic helped save Delphine Nikobamye's life.

Delphine Nikobamye lives in Kabwayi colline in Burundi. The communes of Burundi are divided into 2,639 “collines” (the French word for hills). She is 28 and has three children. Since it takes two hours to walk to the nearest health clinic, Nikobamye, like many women in Burundi, is accustomed to home births.

However, during her recent third pregnancy, she had been seeing a community health worker from Village Health Works (VHW). VHW is a medical facility in Burundi that provides quality, compassionate health care in a dignified environment while also addressing the root causes of illness, poverty, violence and neglect. During these regular appointments she and her husband learned a lot about pregnancy care and the benefits of delivering a baby in a hospital or clinic.

On the day she went into labour, her husband wasn’t home. “There was nobody to take me to the clinic,” she recalls. “Fortunately a neighbour heard me screaming. She came to see what was happening. I was feeling contractions.”

Then a community health workers (CHW) arrived for their scheduled appointment. He called for an ambulance to take Nikobamye to the clinic. But the baby was coming too fast, and arrived before the ambulance did!

Nikobamye was bleeding at a dangerous rate. The ambulance took her to the VHW centre and doctors found part of the placenta was still in her uterus. Physicians at the clinic were able to remove the rest of the placenta and save her life. Doctors also successfully treated some perineal swelling and Nikobamye is now fully healed.

“If I had not gone to the clinic I would have died,” she says. “Staying at home no one could provide such treatment for me and my baby.”

Nikobamye is grateful to the VHW for providing these essential health services. Through the funding of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Nikobamye’s village has access to an ambulance to take them to the VHW clinic, free of charge.

“When we have an urgent health situation at home we get in touch with a CHW who lives in our village and he/she calls an Ambulance from VHW. In other areas you cannot call the ambulance when you don’t have money but VHW is helping us with no charge. VHW’s community health workers play a vital role, acting as the bridge between us (the community) and VHW health centre.

“My husband and I had little idea of the risks of delivering a baby at home but after receiving frequent home visits from CHWs during my pregnancy, I was encouraged to go to the hospital for antenatal care and discovered many important things about pregnancy.”

Nikobamye and her baby are now safe and healthy at home, and she’s letting people know. “I will keep spreading my story in my community so that it touches and encourages other families — especially women — who neglect to deliver their babies at the hospital.”

View more stories on: Africa Stories, Burundi Stories, Maternal, Maternal Newborn and Child Health, Newborn and Child Health