Fieldset
Returning to Jahun: Maternal mortality in northern Nigeria

Pippa is an obstetrics and gynaecology consultant from the UK. She is currently on assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Jahun, northern Nigeria – working on a maternity project in an area where a high number of women die during childbirth.

It’s five years since my last assignment with MSF.  

In 2011, I spent two years working with the organisation. Then, fellowships in global maternal health and completing my training to become an Obstetrics and Gynaecology consultant in the UK got in the way…

But, that has been done now. Meaning the opportunity to work for MSF again.

Brilliant. 

Arrival in Abuja

I land in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, and undergo the familiar briefings and loitering in the office.

The night before we depart for the project, we go out for a “last supper” with a group of MSF staff, each of us with different roles and experience.

Some of us know the project. Those that don’t hang onto every morsel of information to give some clues about what may be in-store over the next few weeks. 

Flashes of previous patients come back to me. Women I have not remembered for a while now, but, as we get closer, the eyes of hundreds of pregnant women look back at me as I stare out the window.”

The road to Jigawa state

Now, back in the jeeps. Like the old days for a nine-hour drive to the project – from Abuja to the town of Jahun in Jigawa state, northern Nigeria. 

A group of women and children in Jigawa state, northern Nigeria. Photo: Maro Verli/MSF

A group of women and children in Jigawa state, northern Nigeria. Photo: Maro Verli/MSF

Some nervous excitement, but also time to look out the window as capital turns to countryside, brick houses turn into mud huts with corrugated roofing.  This corrugated roofing eventually becomes huts with the roofs made of straw as we get into the more remote areas. 

And, back to the familiarity of a landscape and society visible from the road which, I know, are associated with desperate situations for women… but most importantly pregnant women. 

Maternal mortality

The global disparity in maternal mortality is an embarrassment to the modern world and, to me, the most important worldwide inequality that exists. 

This area in northern Nigeria has an estimated maternal mortality of 2,000 per 100,000 live births – that is women dying because of pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions.

Compared that with the UK, where it is just eight women per 100,000 live births.

Those statistics show that these deaths are preventable in well-staffed and stocked maternity units, where healthcare is accessible and treatment for complications is sought early.  

Why MSF are here

That is why MSF are here. Running a maternity unit in an area where the healthcare of the pregnant population is lacking.

On my journey back to the project, flashes of previous patients come back to me. Women I have not remembered for a while now, but, as we get closer, the eyes of hundreds of pregnant women look back at me as I stare out the window.

And, I am reminded of the opportunity that working with the MSF team gives me. To help offer these women a safe, clean delivery.

In my mind, it is a basic human right.