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OPINION: Using Atheism to Reduce Maternal Mortality in Nigeria?


Leo Igwe

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – If you are one of those who think that atheism is of no benefit to Africa and Africans, that disbelieving in god has no social value or significance for this people then you may rethink your position after reading this. You may be aware that the government of Cross River State in Southern Nigeria is waging a fierce campaign against the practice of ‘church birth’ and this practice highlights the dangers of theism particularly when it is applied to maternal health issues. You may ask : What is church birth? Church birth is a practice where pregnant women go to  churches or faith clinics, instead of hospitals, to deliver their babies. A BBC report on one of such churches, The Land of Promise Church, which is located near the city of Calabar has made international headlines.

Since the 90s, some African Initiated Churches have, in their quest for relevance and extra income, established child delivery facilities that are often operated by ‘traditional birth attendants’. These churches lure their members who are pregnant to use their faith clinics instead of going to the maternity clinics where they are likely to pay more for the process of delivery. These pregnant women, who are mainly from poor families, are forced to patronize these clinics at least to reduce the costs of childbirth and at same time to demonstrate their faith in god, in their ‘church god’. The women register in these faith clinics and are made to fast and pray. They are made to believe that it is only GOD, not any human being who would make them deliver successfully. Particularly they are told that ‘Dr Jesus’ is in charge of the process.

At this Land of Promise Church, pregnant women congregate. They fast and pray to god to help them deliver safely. The operator of the faith clinic made it clear that her work was god-ordained:

“This is the work that God gave me to do. From my youth, I helped my mother to deliver babies. God has been helping me, and God will not allow anything dangerous or evil to happen”

Is that really the case? Don’t ‘evil’ things’ happen in these places? She stressed that the way to guarantee safe delivery was through prayer:

“I pray with the mothers and my followers can testify about my skills… Every pregnant woman that has come to me has delivered safely and gone home with their children.” She further stated:”As a child of God, you do not stay idle, you have to be closer to God. So that as a pregnant woman, when it comes to the time of delivery, everything will be easy for you.”

Are things always easy for the women? Of course, not.

Sadly there have been reports of women who developed complications in the course of delivery at these clinics. Sometimes they were taken to the hospital but died before they could receive proper treatment. Reports of such incidents have not stopped pregnant mothers from going to these faith clinics because they hold this belief that it would not be their portion. But what happens at the end of the day? It ends up being the portion of some of them and these woman die in the course of the delivery or after delivery due to one complication or the other.

Fortunately, the wife of the state governor, Dr Linda Ayade is leading a campaign to stop the practice of ‘church birth’ in the region and she deserves commendation for that. She is going from community to community to persuade ‘expectant mothers’ from going to deliver at these faith clinics. But the main question is: Will this campaign against ‘church birth’ succeed? This practice has been going on for decades. Will the campaign really persuade pregnant women from going to these faith clinics due the high cost of maternal health care in the state? Is there any initiative to support these women financially and to subsidize antenatal and post natal care?

The governor’s wife has been educating women by sharing experiences of women who had died due to this practice and making them understand the risks involved in this undertaking. Is she saying that these women are not aware of the risks involved? After all why are the women praying and fasting in the first place?  Is it not because they know that they might die in the process?

For me, there is some crucial information that is missing in this campaign. Expectant mothers need to be told that there is no God and should stop wasting their time praying and fasting. In fact they should be told that fasting puts their health more in danger; it denies their bodies the nutrients they need and increase the risk of maternal mortality.

Surely, telling pregnant women in villages and towns across the state that there is no god will come as a shock. There is no doubt about it, but it will do immense good to the campaign. First of all, it would put the health risks they are taking into proper perspective. If expectants mother realize that there is no god to save them if they develop complications in the course of church birth, it may cause them to rethink going to faith clinics. Getting the operators of the clinics to discard the mistaken notion that there is some God helping them in their work would make these charlatans understand the enormity of the mischief and crime that they are committing. I am aware that in a ‘deeply religious’ god believing and christian dominated southern Nigeria, this atheistic pill will surely be a bitter one to swallow. However it can prove to be an important empowering and liberating measure that will help reduce and eventually root out maternal mortality in Nigeria.


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