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A Village Stands Up to Save its Mothers

In many ways, life in Korodou is as it has been for generations. Time is still marked by the months of rain that soak this village of 5,000 people in the forest region of southern Guinea. Most village residents earn their living as those before them, either harvesting rice, bananas, coffee, or cacao, or raising livestock to sell at the local market. The roads in and out of Korodou are all dirt, and at night the flicker of candles and kerosene lamps are reminders of the village’s remoteness.

Amid timeless traditions, there has also been hardship. For years, the nearest health clinic was three kilometers away, in the city of Kissidougou, but it may as well have been 300 kilometers, given the many local women and children who died unnecessarily. They never made it to the clinic, for lack of either money or means of transportation, and some did not know that they needed emergency care. Even Madeleine Wendouno, the wife of the village’s leader, lost two of her seven children as infants, one due to complications at birth, the other from malnutrition. “I was young and inexperienced,” explains Madeleine, who is now 55.

Recently, however, this has started to change. The community recognized that they had to do more to prevent women from dying in childbirth, as well as from devastating childbirth injuries like fistula, which causes chronic incontinence and social stigma. With help from EngenderHealth’s Fistula Care project, Korodou’s citizens created a Safe Motherhood Village Committee, a group of volunteers who facilitate care for pregnant women and those living with fistula. These committees are an integral part of EngenderHealth’s multi-tiered efforts to increase women’s access to medical care, improve maternal health, and ultimately save lives. 

After hearing about the committee, Madeleine, a health officer at the village clinic, volunteered immediately. “Before, my work always kept me at the clinic,” she recalls. “I had no real deep contact with my community, and then I realized that by going out and raising awareness, I could make a greater impact.”

It is not uncommon to see Madeleine and other committee members walking the dusty streets of Korodou. They knock on doors, encouraging women to visit the health center for prenatal care, warning against early marriage and other harmful traditional practices, and encouraging husbands to care for their pregnant wives, and that includes getting them medical care.

“We all have a role to play in preventing complications related to pregnancy and childbirth,” Madeleine explains. Committee members also refer women facing obstetric emergencies—and those already living with fistula—to hospitals for treatment. Sometimes, they help transport women there themselves.

Their efforts are paying off. “Many women with pregnancy or childbirth problems now go directly to the health clinic,” notes Madeleine. What’s more, men often accompany their wives for health care—which was unheard of before. Childbirth and pregnancy complications are both down among women in Korodou, and every woman in the village who once had a fistula has been repaired through treatment at the hospital in nearby Kissidougou, where EngenderHealth trained surgeons to perform reparative surgery. Once healed, many women wish to share their stories of transformation, often joining Madeleine and others in the crusade to bring positive changes to their tradition-rich home, one woman at a time.

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