Jatropha, a plant commonly found in the northern part of the country, particularly the Upper West Region, is put to many uses including landscaping, source of fuel, medicine and marking grave yards.The milky sap of the plant is also used as tooth paste for children to cure sores in their mouths.
Notwithstanding the positive aspects of jatropha, it is also used for criminal activities such as aborting an early pregnancy. A young lady who spoke to this writer said some women in the communities who had become experts, use jatropha to cause abortion for a fee and that any misapplication of the plant could lead to the death of a pregnant woman.
The use of jatropha in terminating pregnancy is common among girls and young women in the entire Region but the practice is more common in the Wa East District.
Parts of a branch of jatropha were found in the vagina of a woman who died in one of the communities in the South Sissala area some years back, an indication that she had used the plant to terminate her pregnancy.
Some Traditional Birth Attendants also use the outer layer of mahogany to prepare concoctions for girls to drink to terminate pregnancy, especially when the conception is two or three months old. This too can lead to excessive bleeding and cause the death of a pregnant woman.
In the Bole and Sawla-Tuna–Kalba Districts of the Northern Region, girls also use a creeping flower (name not known) to cause abortion.
Some girls who spoke to this writer also blamed abortion cases among young girls on some health personnel, especially those of them who work in hospital theatres and who have acquired knowledge from medical doctors on how to facilitate abortion. According to the girls, some health personnel even keep gadgets in their rooms, which have been turned into surgical theatres for abortions.
These, among other factors, are contributing to the high maternal death rates in the Upper West despite efforts being made by the Health Ministry to reduce maternal deaths in the communities.
The death of a pregnant woman sends fear and panic to all women, but the incidence is even more devastating with women who are pregnant and die while giving birth.
“Our hearts continue to beat whenever we hear that a pregnant woman has died. Some of us have even lost interest in going to bed with our husbands because it is painful to die while in the process of producing a baby for a family”, Madam Habiba Adams, a yam seller at the Wa Central Market said.
She said though women in the area were often told that child bearing is like to going to a war because a pregnant woman can die when giving birth to a baby, the recent maternal deaths recorded in health facilities in the Upper West is terrifying.
Another woman, Madam Mariam Mashood, a fishmonger at the Wa Market, noted that women in the urban centres nowadays attended antenatal service and, therefore, she did not understand why there were so many maternal deaths at health facilities in the Region.
She expressed the concern after she had attended antennal care at the Wa Regional Hospital.
Madam Mashood said: “I am relying on Allah’s intervention so that I can return from this war unhurt and alive”.
The Upper West Region recorded 28 maternal deaths between January and May this year, a figure it registered during the whole of last year.
Health authorities are entertaining the fear that the Region could experience the 2009 situation where it recorded 43 maternal deaths if decisive measures are not put in place to stem the trend.
The Wa Regional Hospital registered 13 maternal deaths, Nandom Hospital, four deaths, Lawra Hospital, three deaths, Jirapa Hospital, three deaths, Tumu Hospital, one death, Sissala West and Lambussie one each, while Daffiam/Bussie/Issa, recorded two deaths.
The figures have put fear in many pregnant women, whose lives are at stake because of the inadequate health facilities and the dwindling numbers of health personnel, especially midwives, to help provide quality healthcare delivery in the facilities.
Many people in the region find it difficult to access health care due to the deplorable nature of the roads. Indeed, undue delays in transporting pregnant women to health facilities have resulted in numerous death that could have been prevented.
Dr. Kofi Issah, Deputy Upper West Regional Director of Health Services, said delays in recognizing danger signs, bleeding and prolonged labour, among other factors, account for most maternal deaths in the region.
He identified inadequate number of vehicles and vehicles refusing to carry pregnant women with complications for fear of soiling their car seats, as well as the cost of transport, as some of the issues affecting maternal healthcare delivery in the Region.
The Deputy Director called for the education of women and their spouses about the danger signs, training of service providers in counseling skills, educating women, spouses and families about when and where to seek care in case of pregnancy complications.
Dr. Issah suggested the development of referral systems that would link health facilities and communities through regular interactions, and community participation in the running of those facilities.
He said there was also the need to assist communities, families, and women to develop readiness plans, establish good links with traditional authorities and help communities and individuals to develop a financial scheme for emergency health cases.
Dr. Issah, called for improvement of roads in the region, encouragement of relevant organizations such as the Ghana Private Road Transport Union to assist pregnant women during emergencies, and the effective use of radio to communicate health-related information to families and community members.
Dr. Issah, might be right in making these suggestions but not much would be achieved by the health authorities if women are not allowed to take control of their sexual and family life in the region.
Interestingly, men determine whether their wives should go in for family planning services or not. Besides, the non-availability and accessibility of health facilities, coupled with inadequate health personnel to provide quality healthcare service to the people, especially women, are some other causes that are promoting the adoption of unorthodox health practices including criminal abortions.
The health authorities must work harder and identify traditional birth attendants in the communities and motivate them to act as health agents to help reduce maternal deaths.
Abortion should be legalized and made free and accessible to women to take control of their sexual and reproductive lives.
Ghanaian scientists should also conduct research into the medicinal properties of jatropha and its potency as a plant for abortion. There is the possibility that through this, Ghana could come out with a scientific/medical breakthrough either for the cure of other diseases.
By Bajin D. Pobia