Rural Health Care Initiative
  • Partnering with Sierra Leone to save lives

News from Tikonko by Carol Nelson

January 20, 2017

Carol Nelson’s Report from Tikonko for the Website;

Having returned from Sierra Leone on January 18, I wish to share with you the outstanding work that RHCI is doing in the Tikonko Chiefdom, and the work still to be done.

Arriving in Tikonko on Friday, December 30th, I was welcomed by a large crowd of people including the Traditional Birth Attendants and health care staff with whom I had worked in 2015. With dancing and singing, they came down Tikonko Road to the Birth Waiting Home construction site, where we met, toured the building and shared greetings. The roof is up, and while I was there, the ceiling, doors and windows were being installed. It was great to see the progress! See pictures.

Over and over again, RHCI was thanked by the Tikonko Chiefdom leaders and residents for our work to help improve health care and to make it easier for pregnant women to deliver at the health center. The District Medical Office (DMO), Dr. Turay, is looking at the Birth Waiting Home as a model for other communities to copy, and has offered staff support.

Our in-country director Manley Jongopie, RHCI volunteer Dr. Gary Johnson and I met with and listened to many groups including:

• RHCI Tikonko Project Committee
• District Medical Officer and his staff
• Health Center and Outreach Motorbike clinic staff
• Tikonko Chiefdom Paramount and village chief
• Traditional birth attendants
• Mothers at the Lembema Outreach clinic
• Communities of Gbalehun, Wubangay, Julae, Kasama, Sebehun Tarbay including their village chiefs

Our meetings confirmed the value of RHCI’s mission and work and emphasized further needs, including Teenage Pregnancy Prevention, promoting nutrition and agriculture program, and expanding RHCI’s work to other more remote areas of the Tikonko Chiefdom. We have lots of work to do!!!

Repeatedly we were told the Outreach Motorbike clinics were very busy and much appreciated, saving the lives of many children with malaria. We attended the Lembema outreach clinic the second Friday of my trip. (see pictures)

Having been urged by the Paramount and DMO, the RHCI Volunteers and Tikonko staff ventured out in RHCI’s Toyota Hilux 4-wheel drive over very, very bad roads (Minnesota’s pot-holes are insignificant compared to SL’s roads) to the more distant areas of Tikonko Chiefdom, including Kasama and Sebehun Tarbay. Having good transportation made it possible to reach these villages that have Maternal Child Health Posts, where we discovered they lack many resources including electricity.

During the last week of my trip, I facilitated a course called “Helping Babies Breathe” for 28 birth attendants. This course, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is focused on training birth attendants in developing countries to help babies breathe in the first minute of life, reducing the very high rate of neonatal asphyxia, stillborn babies and neonatal deaths. Carrie Jo Cain, a nurse from Minneapolis who now lives and works in Sierra Leone, was the master trainer for the course, along with her colleague Solomon. The second training, implemented by RHCI, was a two-day review for the traditional birth attendants in the Chiefdom. Fifty two women attended this course.

We spent an entire day doing an inventory of the donations in the shipping container that is permanently located at the Birth Waiting Home site. It was gratifying to see all the donations and we made decisions on how they could be used. Many of these donations are being saved to use in the Birth Waiting Home. Thank you to all our donors from a year ago!

On the last Saturday of my visit, the PICS Bags (Purdue Improved Crop Storage) were demonstrated by RHCI at the Tikonko Agriculture Business Center. This is a storage system that aims to prevent crop wastage from insects, mold and rodents. The groundnut harvest from this past year was re-bagged into the PICS bags. Other farmers were loaned bags on a trial basis. I also walked the RHCI land, and saw the cassava crop being grown there. I met with several farmers and completed the agriculture questionnaire the RHCI nutrition committee requested.

After returning to Freetown on January 16th, Manley, Gary and I met with the NGO Medical Research Council. Additional medical supplies were promised for Tikonko Chiefdom by MRC, and picked up by Gary and Manley after I left the country. I squeezed in a little shopping at the Market near the bay before heading via the Sea Bird boat to the Lungi Airport on Tuesday, the 17th.

I wish to thank Manley Jongopie and Dr. Gary Johnson for facilitating the transportation, meetings and work that made my trip productive and enjoyable. As in previous trips, I loved the rural life in Tikonko, with roosters crowing in the morning, the clanging of the call to prayer at 5 AM, and the many goats running around, but most of all the friendly people including the little children. Over and over I was greeted by them when walking through the village. These are the friendliest people I have ever met. They deserve good health care.

What I learned:

1. The outreach motorbike clinics are very popular and very beneficial to people living far from Tikonko.
2. The Birth Waiting Home construction is moving along well. Its opening later this year is very much anticipated.
3. The more distant areas of the chiefdom, Kasama and Sebehun Tarbay in particular, need the support of RHCI and are very receptive.
4. Our nutrition/agriculture project is very important. Without good nutrition, there is no health. Gary Johnson is focused on advancing it before returning to the US in March.
5. Having access to transportation (the RHCI Motorbike and RHCI Toyota Hilux) has made it possible for RHCI volunteers and staff to be more productive, to reach into the more remote areas of the chiefdom and to transport patients needing hospital care to Bo.
6. The Traditional Birth Attendants, who received more training, are a vital part of helping improve health care in the villages, as they take on the role of Community Health Workers.
7. The health care needs of the people in Tikonko are vast, with malnutrition being a major component that contributes to it. RHCI is truly making a difference.
8. The residents and leaders of the Tikonko Chiefdom are very appreciative of RHCI’s work.

My appeal to you: To complete the Birth Waiting Home and begin operations this year, we will need ongoing financial support. The roof, windows, ceilings, and doors are almost done, with floor tiling and bathrooms next. Please consider a generous donation to make all of this possible so the doors can open in the summer of 2017. The Birth Waiting Home will save the lives of women and their newborns from villages outside of Tikonko Town, making it possible for them to be close to skilled health care when they go into labor. Your donation WILL make a difference in the lives of these families.

[Just a quick note: RHCI Volunteers pay for their own trips and expenses. None of your donations were used to make my trip possible. All travel expenses were self-funded.]

Carol Nelson

Executive Director

Carol Nelson MD is a retired physician from the U of MN Boynton Health Women's Clinic and St. Paul Primary Care Clinic with 38 years of primary care experience. In 2013, 2015 and December 2016-January 2017, she traveled to Tikonko in Sierra Leone. During the recent trip, she facilitated a Helping Babies Breathe training session for the Traditional Birth Attendants in Tikonko Chiefdom. Dr. Nelson is currently pursuing her Master's of Public Health at the U of MN School of Public Health, with a focus on Global Health.

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