She tiredly drags her weight, her dark complexion not disguising the dust that has gathered on her feet she must have walked a long distance.
Her left hand supports her back and in the right she holds a polythene bag she looks to be in considerable pain. She soldiers on slowly before collapsing onto the first seat she comes across. That is when her reason for coming here notices her.
A youthful male in khaki trousers and a checked shirt talks to her for a moment but is again called off to attend to a new mother whose attendants believe needs help. Nicholas Ocen, 28, is not a doctor as many visiting Oteno health centre II in Aleptong may think he is actually the midwife. The only midwife for miles.
Today, since the centre is a venue for an integrated health drive where free checkups for malaria, cervical cancer and safe male circumcision are taking place, Ocen only has a small room fitted with two mattresses on the floor to work in. But even on normal days without extra activity, the health centre has only two beds. He checks the newborn baby and its mother before noting a few things down in a 48-page exercise book.
At the moment, there are just two new mothers one delivered thirty minutes after the other in the morning.
Like many of his clients, the oldest of these mothers is twenty. The other is nineteen and she has just delivered her second baby.
“Teenage pregnancies are high around here,” Ocen says.
He adds that the two mothers were quite ‘old’ compared to the sixteen and fifteen-year-olds that usually walk into the centre to have their babies.
“They will always tell you they are 20, because they don’t want you to ask questions.”
Ocen is happy all the deliveries today were successful, although he notes that some days have been messy and sad especially because of misinformation.
“There are times you will be trying to save a girl not knowing she was attempting an abortion,” he says.
Since joining the facility last year, Ocen has fast become one of the most loved midwives in the area in fact, even when he serves a health centre II where services are limited and the most qualified health official is a clinical officer, the numbers visiting the ill-equipped Oteno have shot up, especially among pregnant women that prefer him to the less patient, often abusive female midwives at higher health centres.
“The female midwives are not kind like he is,” says one of the women who gave birth at a health centre IV last year, but is now receiving antenatal services at Oteno.
Originally trained as a comprehensive nurse, Ocen had a soft spot for maternal health and thus often assisted the midwife at the health centre in Apac district where he served then. When he was transferred to Aleptong and asked to practise midwifery, he was more than willing.
“I felt it would be good to help women bring new lives to earth,” he says with passion.
However, even though his tender nature has lured many local women to Oteno, Ocen’s wife is not a beneficiary of his special service.
“I can only get her to the health centre and hand her over to the person in charge my ethics don’t allow me to…” he says.
In his career now into its eleventh month, the young man has endured problems of inadequate supplies and the lack of electricity, especially when he has to help mothers deliver at night. In such cases, he has found himself delivering babies using a lantern or even his cell phone torch!
Just last year, this situation was under control when Pathfinder, an international organisation, offered them solar panels, but Ocen says they have been down for months, worsening the situation. The hospital survives on a quarterly government supply of equipment, which Ocen says is at times not enough since they cannot pre-determine the number of women that may need antenatal services within that period.
The young midwife has also had to deal with the financial shortcomings of his rural Lango clients, especially when they fail to buy essential items such as surgical gloves. Ocen loves his job but wishes that government funded midwives and their facilities better, in order for them to perform better.
He says, for example, a health centre such as Oteno is entitled to a single midwife regardless of the rising number of pregnant mothers.
“We should attach more respect to human life I think whether it is a health centre II or IV, each deserves more than one midwife,” he says.
Under the ministry of Health guidelines, a health centre IV not only has more than one midwives, but is also manned by a doctor and ideally should have a functional operation theatre it is the next best thing to the regional referral hospital. A health centre II, on the other hand, is as basic as they come.
However, even with such dilapidated conditions, Ocen still finds his joy in seeing a new mother smile at her newborn he says it is worth much more than money. On slow days, Ocen delivers a baby daily. But on busy days, deliveries are up to as many as five a day.
“On such days I usually seek the help of the in-charge, who has knowledge of dealing with women in labour,” he says, hoping for more beds.
“As you can see, these ones are on the floor,” he says while adjusting a mosquito net loosely tied to the window.
Back in the waiting room, Ocen reemerges and talks to the tired pregnant mother who arrived earlier. She looks to be in less pain and one can only hope her obviously long, lonesome journey ends well in Ocen’s hands.
Source : The Observer