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Nigeria: Make Health Care Facilities Safe and Accessible

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When it comes time for a woman to face the real dangers of delivering a child, she often finds herself at the mercy of her circumstances. Olutosin Oladosu-Adebowale reports on her personal experience in Nigeria's hospitals.

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When the time came for me to deliver my first daughter, my maternal grandmother took me aside and told me to sit down.

"There is no pain as that of child birth," she said. "It is indescribable. Delivery can only be done by God. Put your faith in him. As for the doctors--forget them."

Her words made me deeply afraid for what I was to experience next, and my mother's words only confirmed my fears.

"Has she explained everything to you?" she said. "It will be painful."

True to their words, my labor was the most horrific experience of my life. My relatives prepared me for the physical pain, but I was not alerted to the conditions I would meet in Nigeria's health care facilities.

I went to the hospital to deliver my daughter on April 25, 2002. Pain gushed out of me like the flow of a river. I screamed, expecting soothing medications to reduce my pain, or at least soothing words to help me through. Instead, one of the nurses shouted at me: "Shut up! It is time for you to know that a baby's head is bigger than a man's manhood."

At the hospital, there was not a single doctor. The room was crowded with women in various stages of delivery. We were forced to labor on benches, as there was only one bed. When the baby crowned at the birth canal, women would be transferred to the only available bed.

A nurse sternly warned me not to push, despite my baby's insistence on coming into this world. When I could not take it any further, I screamed and the nurse almost hit me. "I told you not to push! No space for you to deliver!"

The pain of attempting to stop my labor made me cry out in more pain. I pulled my husband aside and gave him these instructions: "If I die, ensure that you take me back to my village for burial. I do not want to be buried in Lagos, or in your village." He responded with a hiss.

When my baby was finally delivered, she could not breathe. The nurse looked at me straight in the face and said, "Witch, you have killed your daughter." She handed the baby to my husband and said, "She is a still birth. Your wife killed your child."

I began to cry as my husband wrapped a scarf around the baby to prepare her for burial. But suddenly, a doctor who arrived just in time took the baby from his arms. I don't know how, but by some miracle of God he was able to revive my daughter. Relieved, I fell asleep.

I woke in a pool of blood--the nurses had forgotten to stitch my vagina where the episiotomy had been performed. I recovered after eight days in intensive care.

These horrible experiences happened in one of the largest hospitals in Lagos. I was lucky to survive. My daughter, whom we named Oluwatobiloba meaning 'God is a Great King', was lucky to survive. Every day, women are sacrificed at the altars of medical negligence in Nigeria.

I could quote statistics of maternal deaths in my country, but they would be useless: official numbers do not represent the actual quantity of casualties we see daily. I call on our government to commit to proper funding and staffing for our health care system. We must all come together to reduce the number of women and infants buried in the graveyards of Nigeria.