30 Jul 15 14 Feb 17

The Rose of Masisi: 'Maman Agathe' cares for women with high-risk pregnancies in Democratic Republic of Congo

Agathe Farini Sena, otherwise known as Maman Agathe, is a counselor at the Village d’Accueil in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Women with high-risk pregnancies stay at the facility as they wait to give birth. This way, when the time comes, they have access to high-quality healthcare at the adjacent Masisi general hospital, which is supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to ensure they give birth safely.

Last year at the Masisi Hospital, MSF and Ministry of Health teams delivered more than 3,000 babies, more than 900 of them to women staying at the Village d’Accueil.

First port of call

Maman Agathe’s job is to make sure the 70-odd mothers-to-be staying at the Village d’Accueil are happy, healthy and at ease in the days before the big event. She helps these women – many of whom have been displaced or otherwise affected by North Kivu’s decades-long war – as they settle in to the facility. Whether they have concerns about their health, material needs or just want some moral support, Agathe is their first port of call.

Thankfully, her bright pink blouse and her resonant laugh make Maman Agathe difficult to miss.


Lack of access to healthcare

Accessing quality healthcare is not an easy task in conflict-ridden North Kivu province. Healthcare facilities often demand payment for treatment. Many do not have the equipment, drugs or skilled medical personnel necessary to give appropriate care.

People are frequently harassed, robbed or attacked by bandits or by members of armed groups while making the often long and difficult journey to health centres and hospitals. Recurrent displacement also makes accessing healthcare problematic.

Having been personally affected by the conflict in North Kivu – her husband died during the war in 1994 – Agathe understands where the women she is working with are coming from.

“I don’t see these pregnant women as pregnant women, I see them as my children,” she says. “I have to chat with them every day. Because if I don’t, they will be afraid. Then how will I know what is troubling them?”


Starting the day

Since she began working at with MSF in 2008, Maman Agathe has begun nearly every day with dancing and song. She and her 70 “children” sing in the different languages of the east of DRC, where ethnic and linguistic differences have been at the heart of the war for the last 20 years.

Not only is this a positive way to start the day, but Maman Agathe swears it can get labour going too.

“Yes, women have had their waters break or their contractions start while singing and dancing here,” she says. “It doesn’t happen often, but it happens nonetheless!”

In 2014, the MSF teams in Masisi conducted more than 128,000 consultations and brought more than 12,000 people to hospital. MSF has been offering primary and secondary healthcare free of charge in the Masisi health zone since 2007.  

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