Motherhood in Rural Communities and the Challenge of Illiteracy
During a recent medical outreach sponsored by UNICEF, David-Chyddy Eleke who interacted with rural women found illiteracy as part of their challenges in prioritising their children’s health
After the devastation caused by flood in about 10 local government areas of Anambra State in 2022, the United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF), last week took out five days to embark upon a medical outreach in rural agrarian communities, where the devastation occured. This was the last lap of the organisation’s intervention in the affected areas.
UNICEF had after the flood late last held an assessment visit to the affected areas, where it did needs assessment, and was able to find out that sources of drinking water in many of the affected communities were contaminated, just as their toilet facilities were damages by the flood. As part of its intervention, the organisation has among other things sunk boreholes and also provided chemicals for the disinfecting of the areas to avoid outbreak of disease.
In the last lap of its intervention, UNICEF took out five days to hold medical outreach in different communities that were affected by the flood. In two of the communities visited by THISDAY for the outreach, Amansea, Awka North Local Government Area, Okpoko in Ogbaru Local Government Area, Umuoba Anam in Anambra East Local Government Area,and other locations where the programmes were held, and the turn out of nursing mothers with their children showed that some children, who were due for immunisation upon birth have never had any. This may be largely because rural women use traditional birth attendants, instead of recognised health institutions.
In Amansea, according to the Local Immunization Officer (LIO), Mrs Gloria Okpete, the outreach was for children from 0 to 23 months old, and the drugs provided include: BCG, Pental 1, pental 2, Rota virus immunization, OPV, IPV and even COVID-19 vaccine for mother’s. The BCG is supposed to be taken at birth, while pental 1 and pental 2 continue according to their progression. But surprisingly, at the centre, mothers were found with children of over one year, who had not received any immunization.
Mrs Okpete said: “What we do in this case when we see such children is to administer them the immunisation they missed at birth, so long as they are still within the range of receiving such immunization.”
In Umuoba Anam, the case was also the same. Speaking at the grand finale of the programme at the Umuoba Anam Primary Health Centre( PHC) in Anambra East Local Government Area of the state, the officer in charge( OIC) of the centre, Mrs Patience Okoye said her team devised strategies to be able to get mothers to bring their children for immunisation, including advertising incentives, which they called pluses, for every mother and child that came.
“This outreach programme was sponsored by UNICEF, through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF). The aim is to ensure good health for rural people, especially children.
“The outreach involved immunisation of children and administration of COVID-19 vaccine to adults, especially women. For the five days, we were able to immunise a very good number of children whose mothers brought to the centre. Some adults also used the opportunity to get their jabs of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Part of the incentive to get mothers to come here with their children was that UNICEF introduced several things like distribution of ‘pluses’ such as biscuits, soaps and noodles that made the outreach programme attractive to our people. After receiving the ‘pluses’, the story of the outreach programme would go viral in the community which caused women to bring out their children for immunisation even in the markets.”
Health workers lamented that some of the mothers have no time to ensure proper immunisation of their children. Okoye said: “This programme is free, but you will have to persuade them, to the point of offering incentives, that is why you see this number here.
” The reason you can still find children who are over six months and have not received BCG, which is supposed to be received at birth, is because most of them had their children in traditional birth attendants homes. To get them to come here, we have to advertise, using towncriers, and we have to repeatedly tell them they will receive incentives for coming.
“Sometimes, we relocate to the market square, where they can vaccinate their children, even while doing their businesses. One may not blame them so much, because their businesses are their major source of livelihood, and they survive by the day. It is not their fault that they prefer to have food for their children, than ensuring accurate immunisation for them.”
However, from interaction, it was clear that most of the women lacked basic knowledge about child spacing nor are they willing to engage in family planning, and this can be attributed to illiteracy.
Some of the mothers who spoke to journalists at the immunization centres told varied stories of their perception of child bearing.
Mrs Uzoamaka Eze who brought a day old child to Okpoko immunisation centre told journalists that the new born was her sixth child. She said: “I may not have another, because of the condition of the country. This is my sixth child, but if the condition of the country gets better, I shall be willing to have more.”
Another mother, Chioma Okeke said: “It is only these days that people keep cautioning others about having many children. This should be a sign of fruitfulness, and should not be truncated. Only God takes care of children, so women should not be made to stop giving birth, even though we know that it is God that giveth, and the same God will train them.”
The reason you can still find children who are over six months and have not received BCG, which is supposed to be received at birth, is because most of them had their children in traditional birth attendants homes