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15th August 2018

Why 1,000 Mothers Name their Babies after Role Model Nurse Alice in Liberia!

By David Williams (28/05/18)

A town called Alice! Meet the role model midwife in Liberia who delivered her first baby at gunpoint and loved by so many new mothers.


Reports 1,000 of new mothers have named their babies after a nurse called Alice Sumo who is so admired and respected in Liberia's Montserrado County where she has been a midwife for nearly three decades. (Photo: Alice with some children named after her).

Alice, whose name means 'peace', has worked through Ebola and civil war to do her job and delivered her first baby at gun point at the side of the road. Aid workers believe it is without precedent that so many children - including four cousins all called Alice - have been named after one midwife.

New mothers who Alice has cared for and supported through their pregnancy have called their daughters after her or if it's a boy, named him Alex. "I've been a midwife for 30 years. I love to see the woman going through her labour pain, it is a very natural thing from God," Alice said.

Alice Sumo is unique - a midwife whose love, care and dedication has helped create a 'town called Alice' with grateful mothers naming an extraordinary 1,000 babies after her.

For during nearly three tumultuous decades in Liberia's Montserrado County that has seen civil war, humanitarian crisis and Ebola scar her homeland, Alice, whose name means 'peace', has worked through all the dangers to deliver babies.

Her magnificent legacy is that in the tough rural community where she works in the north west of the country there are more than 1,000 children called Alice together with their local male equivalents of Alex and Ellis.

Now 48, Alice delivered her first baby at gunpoint on a roadside during the civil war of 1990, before she had even qualified as a midwife after seeing a gunman standing over a pregnant women threatening to kill her if she did not stop screaming.

Alice recalled: "She was screaming and screaming. There was an armed man there shouting. Is there nobody to help? We'll kill the woman because we don't want her screaming. When I heard him say that I said 'No! Don't kill her, I can do the delivery. I wasn't fully qualified but the woman kept screaming and the gunmen said, 'If you don't do the delivery right and something happen to that woman, I will kill you.' I said, 'Oh don't kill me, I will do my best.' I was afraid, but I carried on her delivery.

"There was no razor blade to cut the cord so I bust a bottle and I cut the umbilical cord with that. But then the baby became quiet and the man said, 'But why the baby not crying? I will shoot you!' I said 'no!' and I slapped the baby, and the baby cried, 'waahhhhhh!'. I said, 'There you go'," Alice recalled.

That was the first of thousands of successful deliveries and she is proud never to have lost a child or mother during a birth that at times have been lit with the torch from her mobile telephone because there was no electricity and conditions were so basic.

Now 48, Alice says she loves providing women with the love, care and support they need when they are giving birth. During the Ebola crisis in 2014 and 2015, Alice was one of few midwives to continue working, even though it meant she and her children were temporarily ostracized by the community she loved.

She said: "My neighbours were afraid of me, they never used to allow their children to come to me. I felt bad, but I had to accept it. I used to tell my children 'don't come too close to me, just stay away from me'. You know Ebola broke plenty of things." (Photo: Nurse Alice in hospital).

Wearing heavy protective suits which made her itch and sweat, she said she was often the only person in the delivery with a mother. "I would say my little prayers and go to work. Others were afraid, some nurses started rejecting patients. Mothers couldn't hold their babies (because of Ebola), that used to hurt me. You know that first cry, you want to hold your baby, but they couldn't.

"As you see her, she needs help. I give her that care, bring what she needs. You need to massage her back, talk to her, show her that somebody cares for her, when she's in that labour you nurture her, you talk to her.

"She feels somebody is there by her, she will have that courage, that encouragement to push her baby out, and she will be smiling even though the pain will be there. She will have some confidence. That's why I love that stage of pushing the baby, I love it so much and the first sound of the baby cry. Yeah! I love that. It's so amazing," Alice said.

Born into a rural community where it took nine hours to reach the main road, Alice recalls many mothers and children dying in birth. She is one of eight children and only four survived. Alice knows the pain of loss too - one of her three children died in a motorcycle accident and she is widowed.

It was 'the pain' of villagers and their babies dying that motivated her to go to school and then train as a midwife - and she was both surprised and delighted when quickly babies were named after her.

"I said 'oh wow' because with some of them I didn't even know that they had named the baby after me! When you go to the market everybody is called Alice of Alex or Ellis. The last time I counted it was 862 Alices but now it has increased to 1,000 plus!To me the name Alice is an action name. Alice people are active people, they are caring people, they are loving people. A, the first letter in the alphabet. A for action.

"It's not all about my name. I think parents name their children after me, number one because of my job, my hard work. They love the passion I have, the concern I have for my patients, because whether in the rain or in the sun, I'm looking for my patients to see that they are doing fine. I think this is what they have seen, that love, that concern, that's why they are naming their children after me.

"The most important part of my legacy is that when the baby is born mother and baby are healthy and they go home - that is a good legacy. It makes me to feel proud, makes me to feel good that I have done a wonderful job," Alice noted.

Alice remembers the first two decades as a midwife were tough. Heavily pregnant women would have to walk up to eight hours from their villages in the bush to visit a makeshift clinic.

In the rainy season, they would have to cross the fast-running river by canoe, some even whilst in labour. The clinic then consisted of just one room, which meant no privacy for women in labour, and infections spread easily. Septicemia was a major problem and mortality rates were high.

With no electricity, Alice would often have to hold a phone in her mouth to provide the only light by which she could deliver babies at night. That changed dramatically in 2013 thanks to the British-based charity Save the Children which built, furnished and equipped five maternal health clinics and facilities in Liberia.

One of these was the clinic near the Liberian capital Monrovia where Alice now works as Officer in Charge, providing free Family Planning support, antenatal and postnatal care to mothers and babies, delivers babies, and runs immunisation programmes.

The charity has provided additional training to Alice and the team helping to develop community links with the clinic and educate hard-to-reach areas about the value of medical help over traditional medicines. Among its many assets is a vaccinations facility with a solar powered fridge to keep them at the right temperature.

Save the Children also provided a hand pump for clean water next to the clinic, which serves the local population, and a motorbike enabling volunteers and staff to reach remote areas and to transport patients.

"I used to go from village to village looking for women in labour, because to walk for them was not an easy thing. Sometimes they used to call me I used to go deliver along the road, people can't relate to that. Since the clinic was built there is no danger, and there is no infection, the place is sterilised, and everything is in-tact. Now we have privacy, is the important thing. Now my patient can walk all around, and then they have the post-partum ward, and they have the antenatal side. I know that everything is fine, perfect right now. The labour ward is the power house because that where dignitaries are born, presidents of the nation are born. So that labour ward is the power house, because it gave birth to lot of people, lot of people are born in the labour ward, so I call it the power house," Alice disclosed.

Simon Wright, Save the Children's Director of International Development, said: "Alice's incredible story is a fitting tribute to those midwives who work tirelessly to deliver babies and save lives in some of the most challenging conditions around the world. It also speaks volumes about the generosity of the British public, because through money raised here, we were able to build and equip the clinic where Alice works, and where thousands of mothers have given birth in a safe and private environment. In a country where one in three women gives birth without a skilled medical professional by their side, this clinic and the midwives who work there are a reminder of the life-saving results that aid can have."

He added: "In 2016, one in 15 children died before their fifth birthday in Liberia. This is a heart-breaking statistic when we consider that child mortality there and around the world could be greatly reduced by simply improving free access to healthcare. That's why Save the Children is at the World Health Assembly in Geneva calling on countries around the world to commit to Universal Health Coverage - which would enable children and families access to the healthcare they need without suffering financial hardship."

"Spending on health in most low-income countries is well below the required amount to provide basic services, so we're asking Governments, even the poorest, to increase their health budgets to at least 5% of GDP," Simon stressed.

Alice's legacy is the hundreds of children who are alive today thanks to her. This could be your legacy too. Like Alice, you could change the future for hundreds of children around the world and in the UK, by leaving a gift to Save the Children in your will.

Courtesy: By David Williams Mail newspaper


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