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Modern-day Liberia remains devastated by civil war. In rural parts, almost everyone drinks untreated water, and children in particular are vulnerable to potentially life-threatening diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Child sponsors provide the most vulnerable with a safe home and the love of an SOS mother in a nurturing family home. … more about our charity work in Liberia

Mums stunned by scenes from Liberia maternity ward

A documentary on the life of a midwife in Liberia last night reduced many British mums to tears.

The shocking BBC2 show followed British midwife, Suzanne Saunders-Blundell as she visited the west African country for two weeks to help midwives and doctors at Redemption Hospital in the capital, Monrovia.

Normally Suzanne works as a labour ward co-ordinator in the relative comfort zone of the Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.

In the Sunday night show she revealed how helpless she felt watching the woman they had been treating die before their eyes. She became ill after having a home abortion. 

"I've never watched anybody die,” she said. “It was like she was almost dying in front of my eyes is the best way I can describe it. You just feel so helpless, don't know what to do, don't know what to say, but she must have been in an awful lot of pain."

Today chat room users on the Mumsnet website described the programme as ‘horrific’ and spoke of being moved to tears.

Babies die in hospital every day in Liberia, where one in 25 babies delivered is either stillborn or dead within 24 hours. Women there risk their lives in childbirth, because there are no medicines to help if something goes wrong or an infection sets in after labour.

Since abortion is illegal in the country, many women unwilling to have a child end up critically ill from taking herbs for aborting an unwanted pregnancy.

Suzanne was used to having experts on call, high-tech equipment and easy access to medicines. And though she found the staff at Monrovia were highly dedicated, they worked with only basic facilities and limited medical supplies. Antibiotics are scarce at Redemption Hospital, and since no one knows how to operate the incubator donated by the United Nations Children’s Fund, premature babies are wrapped in tin foil. Suzanne said she was shocked to find some Liberian midwives pressing on a woman’s abdomen to help push the baby out.

But, by the end of her stay, she was inspired by the strength of the Liberian women, midwives and birth attendants, who despite living and working in such difficult conditions, love their work and were keen to learn from her.

Home to 3.5 million people, Liberia has been torn apart by Africa’s most brutal civil war, in which 250,000 people were killed and nearly 800,000 fled. Eight out of 10 people live on less than a dollar a day, while even its capital city has little electricity or any running water. There are less than 60 Liberian doctors in the country, and many of its midwives are so badly paid, they often end up leaving the profession.

Hayley attribution