As the COVID-19 pandemic slows in some parts of the world, the road ahead for the families we serve in Mali is still uncertain. What is clear is the impact the pandemic is having on the wellbeing of families who already faced many challenges. The health and economic impact of this disease will last for a very long time in the peri-urban communities we serve.
As we communicate with and support our partners each day, we wanted to share some of what they are experiencing with you. Since Mother’s Day will soon be here in the US, we particularly wanted to share how the moms we serve are doing.
At community health centers
There has been a significant drop in demand for primary care services at community health centers. You’ll remember that community health centers are the building block of Mali’s health system, where most mothers and children go to receive healthcare.
Dr. Thiéro is the DTC (Directeur technique du centre, or health center technical director) at our partner health center in Sabalibougou (where our WomenConnect project is located). He noted that in April of this year, antenatal care visits fell by 35%, from 289 last April to 189 this year. Postnatal care visits have fallen by 15%. Visits for other curative services have dropped off even more.
Dr. Thiéro reports they have never seen such rapid declines like this before, not even during Ebola. He attributes the change to all the rumors and fears about COVID-19: that you will contract it at the health center, be diagnosed with it if you go, or simply accused of having it if you have any of the symptoms.
Our health savings groups cannot meet normally right now, but we are still finding ways to share health information. We spent the weeks before COVID-19 arrived in Mali training our team to share information with all groups and to help them prepare for its arrival. We were able to reach all 5058 women in our savings groups, and all 180 women in our cooperatives.
Korotoumou is a member of one of our savings groups in Boulkassoumbougou. At the end of March, she had a cold that was making her very tired. She did not want to go to the health center because it is said that if you go with a cold, the staff will automatically isolate you, and your family, which would lead to stigma in your community.
So Korotoumou decided not to go, until the day her group facilitator came and shared information on COVID-19 and encouraged everyone to continue seeking care as normal. The following day, she changed her mind, and went to the health center to get the care she needed, and she recovered. Just last week, she attended her scheduled antenatal checkup at the health center. Korotoumou told us:
I think it is very important to share the right information with members of the community so that families can avoid very difficult situations either due to delaying care or to stigma from COVID-19.
Fortunately, like Korotoumou, all the women in our savings program for pregnant women (SHARE) continue to complete all of their antenatal and postnatal visits as scheduled. All 10 of the women who gave birth in March or April did so at their health center.
Community health workers
Our team of 41 health workers continues to safely visit or check on the families in their care, which include 1812 mothers, 167 of whom are pregnant, and their 2701 children. You already know how hard our CHW team works to take care of families, but you may not know that most of them are mothers themselves.
Kadidiatou is a community health worker in Lafiabougou, and the supervisor for the other CHWs working in her community. She has two sons; one is 3 years old and the second is 3 months old. Like everyone in her community, she had some doubts when she first heard about COVID-19. But as soon as she attended our initial team trainings, she understood the threat posed by this disease and was able to get answers to all her questions, which she now shares with all the families she cares for.
As a mother, she is also taking as many precautions as she can to protect her family, by not visiting friends and neighbors and by closing the gate to her home so others do not stop by for a visit. Unfortunately, her niece tested positive for COVID-19, which was a difficult time for her family. Thankfully her niece has recovered, but Kadidiatou uses her experience as a way to convince others to take COVID-19 very seriously.
Last Saturday, she was checking on a pregnant mother, Sanata, to remind her that she had an antenatal visit coming up this week. But as they talked, she realized Sanata did not intend to go. When Kadidiatou pressed her, Sanata shared that she had heard it said that if someone goes to the health center, she will return with COVID-19, noting that it was only recently that health centers had any preventive measures in place, like handwashing stations. She told Kadidiatou,
I do not want to go to seek care, only to catch this illness and bring it home to my family.
Mothers like Sanata and Kadidiatou are not alone. Our team is talking with worried mothers across Bamako. As long as COVID-19 is a threat to their families, our team will continue to help mothers navigate and overcome all the challenges that prevent them from accessing healthcare in their communities. Now more than ever, it is clear that all mothers and children deserve access to quality healthcare – and just how far we still have to go.