Every month, at least one or two pregnant women travel great distances—often spending hours bouncing down dirt roads on the backs of motorcycles—to arrive at the gate of Pleebo Health Center in southeast Liberia. The Partners In Health-supported center is in Maryland County, one of the poorest places in the world, with 84 percent of people unable to adequately feed, clothe, and shelter themselves. “They come because they hear the care in Pleebo is good,” says Viola Karanja, director of nursing for PIH in Liberia.
That care soon will be even better. In order to accommodate growing demand, the team is poised to build an addition to the nine-bed facility. “If we expand, the numbers of deliveries will definitely double. Well, maybe not double, but definitely increase,” Karanja predicts. “‘It’s clean, no one is sharing a bed, it’s well run’—one mother will tell another, will tell another.”
Pleebo Health Center was one of PIH’s first infrastructure projects after the government of Liberia invited the nonprofit organization to work in the country’s remote southeast. PIH shuttered the old health center in town in 2015 and flung open the doors to the new one later that year. In just the first month, clinicians saw 2,019 people.
Successive renovations and improvements have followed. Staff have been trained. HIV and tuberculosis programs have dramatically expanded, and PIH’s Liberia team has incorporated new programs, such as mental health care. All the while, the number of expectant mothers coming to deliver has increased, from 512 in 2015 to 938 in 2017.
A mother hasn’t died in childbirth at Pleebo for a year and a half—85 percent more successful than the national
average—but crowding has become an issue. Demand now is so high that, after childbirths, mothers and their newborns sometimes end up on mattresses on the floor. There simply aren’t enough beds in the post-partum ward. A new, roughly 3,000-square-foot maternal child health center will be able to comfortably accommodate roughly twice as many women and newborns.
“Everybody is important,” says Karanja, “but I prioritize mothers who are pregnant.”