Born in a displacement camp in north-east Nigeria

It has been ten hours since Halima* went into labour. Her contractions are regular, and increasing. She is in so much pain – but she doesn’t utter a sound; only her face shows the extent of the suffering she is going through.

Her husband was shot dead when the armed group known as ‘Boko Haram’ attacked her hometown. Already pregnant, Halima was held captive for seven months. After the Nigerian armed forces rescued her two months ago, she found refuge in Dalori displacement camp, together with over 15,000 other people uprooted by the conflict in north-east Nigeria.

One of the UNICEF volunteer community mobilizers who was going from tent-to-tent convinced Halima to go to the clinic, where she underwent a medical consultation. She then returned for regular antenatal check-ups. As soon as the labour started, she headed to the clinic. Halima was immediately cared for by a midwife, a traditional birth attendant and a nurse, Ruth.

Now, Ruth checks her – and she is ready. After a few more contractions, Halima gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, who weighs 3 kg. The baby lets out a few cries and starts sucking her thumb right away.

There is joy in the room, and Halima smiles. She and her baby are cleaned and start breastfeeding. Ruth will say, later on, that she was worried that Halima’s latest delivery might be of high risk.

A chance at survival
Despite the hardships associated with displacement camps, the baby girl has a good chance of survival because of the care she has received. Soon, she will have her routine immunization, while Halima continues to receive attention until she recovers. Halima has just given birth to the twenty-seventh baby born in this clinic in Dalori displacement camp.

In total, more than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the conflict in north-east Nigeria, with almost 300,000 newly displaced people since February. Many of the people who have been displaced from areas recently liberated after months of control by Boko Haram suffer from malnutrition, dehydration and exhaustion, especially women and children. In less than two months, 73 deaths have been recorded, with children under 5 comprising 33 per cent of them.

In an effort to reduce child mortality among the displaced population, UNICEF immediately deployed a team of health professionals to support scaling up the integrated health care services provided in the camp through the State Primary Health Care Development Agency. Three clinics were set up in Dalori camp, with support from UNICEF and the Government of Japan, including the one where Halima and baby have received care. Health care workers were involved in the setup and trained to provide services 24 hours a day. The team includes three midwives, three doctors and 50 volunteer community mobilizers.

Baby Fatima ©UNICEF/2015/Birukila
Baby Fatima ©UNICEF/2015/Birukila

Baby ‘Fatima’ faces the future
“I don’t know what would have happened if I was not rescued and brought into this camp,” says Halima. The baby girl, wrapped in a white cloth, has tentatively been named Fatima by her mother. After seven days, she will receive her official name, according to the local traditions.

Recovering from her labour, Halima observes the people around her, the health care professionals. She has never sent her children to school, but is imagining the opportunities that an education might bring her newest baby. “I want this for my daughter,” she says.

“Since I arrived in this camp, I realized that all the people who helped me here had access to Western education. I will allow my daughter to go to school,” she adds, with a look of determination.

Halima will work hard; her daughter will have access to education. In the meantime, her eldest son is attending the UNICEF-supported school in the camp.

Dr. Gerida Birukila is a Communication for Development Specialist.

*name has been changed to protect identity.

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