Giving Birth in Sang, Ghana

delivery record

A portion of the meticulous records kept by traditional birth attendant, Asana Iddrisu (inset).

Midwives in Northern Ghana are called traditional birth attendants, and for 50 years, Asana Iddrisu has filled that role for the community of Sang.  CFTC’s Communications and Governance Officer, Laura Nadeau sat down with Asana in October to find out more about what her job entails in this rural community.

“When I was little I used to follow my auntie when she went to help women give birth, and after years of helping her, she encouraged me to follow this path myself. She helped me deliver a few babies on my own, and after that I was able to deliver on my own without a problem,” Asana said.

Asana is in her 70s, and she has been delivering babies in Sang for the past 50 years. When asked if she runs into complications often, she responds, “if the women are under 20 years old, or if the baby is not in the proper position, I refer them to the health centre in Sang. Or if the problem is serious, I refer them to the hospital in Yendi or Tamale.” Most of the babies that Asana delivers are delivered without a problem.

Asana explained that in 1997 the Ministry of Health provided her with notebooks to record birth information for the community. She returns home to fetch them and comes back carrying a wooden box. Inside are notebooks filled with information about the health of the expectant mother and baby once born. There are strikes in each column to indicate the health and sex of the baby, and the health of the mother following the delivery.

The pages of the notebooks are yellowed and soft to the touch, and at the top of each column is a picture that accompanies the English words. While English is technically the official language in Ghana, here in the impoverished rural north, many citizens do not speak any English. With so many dialects spoken in Northern Ghana, it seems like a brilliant solution to have pictures alongside words at the top of each column. These universally-understood images means that the same notebooks can be distributed to all rural communities.

Recording births not only helps keep tabs on the community’s overall health, it also helps provide children with the information they need to go to school. “Keeping track of the dates that the children are born is very important, because when the child begins school, the parents often come back to me to ask for the specific date, so that they are able to provide the information to the school to properly register their children,” Asana said.

Asana’s role has been an important one for the community and her quiet pride is unmistakable in her response to questions throughout the interview. Her expertise has brought many children safely into the world, and more importantly, her ability to detect problems and refer these women to the nearest hospitals has probably saved countless lives.