BEYOND EBOLA: Talia’s Initiative to Save Mothers and Babies

May 14, 2018

Janneh Kallon and her baby lay next to each other in the maternal clinic in Gbandiwulo Village, Kailahun District© Alpha Sesay/ UNDP Sierra Leone


It was on a sunny Tuesday afternoon while on a fieldwork monitoring visit to Kailahun district that we saw 35 years-old Jembeh. Clearly in pain with arms across the shoulders of two men, Jembeh slowly walked into the maternal clinic we were visiting.

This clinic is Talia community maternal health centre, the only one of its kind serving an estimated 5,000 women and girls in primary maternal and neo-natal health care in Talia and other eight surrounding villages. These villages form an isolated pastoral community seven miles from Kailahun district, in Eastern Sierra Leone from which Jembeh comes.


Seemingly unconscious, Jembeh was unable to speak when spoken to by the nurse. She was then rushed into a small room with‘No go area...’ painted at the entrance. When all calm returned in the clinic, the nurse told us,

“That tiny room you see there is our labour room. Imagine if we have two or three similar cases, we have to do our work in this open space” she added pointing at a narrow pathway. This was Nurse Jestina, a maternal child health aide who has worked in Talia’s clinic for over five years.

Jestina is so passionate about her work and community that she couldn’t hold back telling us how far they have come as a community to save mothers and unborn babies. Indeed, Talia has made remarkable strides in working to achieve sustainable health services for its people and surrounding villages. This maternal-child health post situated in an old private building was temporarily offered to the community by a fellow community member due to the dire situation of pregnant women, mothers-to-be and babies.


After six years since its establishment, the owner asked to have his building back. The people of Talia had no option but to build their own maternal clinic. Community members consulted their Chief and requested for a piece of land. On acquiring the land, with the Village Development Committee (VDC)’s guidance members contributed whatever they could towards the construction.

People donated anything they could afford; from offering their time as builders, to donating their goats, chicken, palm oil, yam and rice which were all sold and the proceeds invested in the construction of a new community-owned maternal-child clinic. With the resources accrued, the people of Talia were able to raise the wall of the clinic comprising of four rooms that included a much larger labour-ward, a store, reception and an office space, with mud bricks they had locally produced.

Unfortunately however, the community fell short of resources and the project came to a halt. They were unable to raise more funds to complete the building. Being peasant farmers, they had donated whatever they could from their annual farm produce so, they would have to wait until the next harvesting season which is dependent on nature given the drastic changes in climate. Moreover, Kailhaun district where Talia is was badly hit by both the civil war and the Ebola crisis that affected all spheres of lives and livelihoods. Kailahun has become known as the ‘birth place of Ebola’ because it was here that the first case of the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone was detected. Despite the resilience of its inhabitants, poverty rate stood at 60.9 percent making it one of the poorest districts in the country, according to the Statistic Sierra Leone’s 2015 Housing and Population Census.

In August of 2017, UNDP’s Inclusive Growth Cluster travelled to Kailahun to carry out a needs assessment. That is how they found the impressive community initiative the people of Talia had taken to locally resolve their health care needs. Their self-determination and drive for community development encouraged UNDP to engage Talia through funding from the People of Japan. With the funding, Talia’s new maternal clinic is not only almost complete but, it is better constructed and furnished with a protected hand-pump to access safe and clean water, a ventilated pit-toilet and accommodation for the health staff.


UNDP, thanks to its partners, is proud to be part of the positive change in the lives of 105 deprived communities in Kono, Kailahun and Kambia including Talia through the ‘Strengthened Access to Health Care and Community-Led Development’ project. The project was designed to increase resilience and empower vulnerable border communities to bounce back from the shock of the Ebola epidemic. ‘The Ebola epidemics exposed the exacerbated healthcare system coupled with the deep-rooted poverty. There is an urgent need to assist these communities to stand back on their feet and be able to access basic services,’ says Ghulam Sherani, UNDP-Sierra Leone’s Inclusive Growth Cluster Team Leader.

Having seen and heard the inspiring life changing stories of Talia as a community and as partners of UNDP, we were set to leave when Nurse Jestina ran to us with the good news of the day - Jemah had given birth to a healthy baby girl. The importance of maternal and neonatal healthcare cannot be stressed enough as Sierra Leone ranks as having the worst maternal death rates worldwide. The new clinic will save the lives of more women and babies and help to motivate health workers like Jestina.

Just the sight of our new building being constructed by UNDP encourages us to work harder. We will forever be grateful. (Jestina, Talia Community Nurse)

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