Delivering babies in near darkness in Mozambique

By Angela Hill, Canadian Red Cross aid worker in Mozambique
A generator delivered in a wheelbarrow is just one of the pieces of equipment that recently helped save the life of a mother and baby during a power outage at Nhamtanda hospital in central Mozambique.
It was pouring rain the day Evalina was born. The power had been off for hours. Doctors and nurses had been holding off starting the caesarian section because no power meant no lights and no equipment in the operating room. The equipment that had arrived with the Canadian Red Cross and Finnish Red Cross field hospital sat ready for use.
Suddenly, the lights came on and the c-section was a go.
Not trusting the power supply, Finnish technologist Janne Makisalo moved a generator in a wheelbarrow down to the operating room with an electrical cord fed in through a window.
His foresight was needed. Moments before the operation on a very pregnant Joana Envelope was about to begin, the fragile power grid failed again, and the operating room was plunged into darkness. There was a flurry of activity as the generator was fired up and equipment plugged in. A single, bright light came on, as well as the lifesaving machines.
After a power outage, a surgical team made up of people from Mozambique, Finland and Canada, improvise with a single light and the most important equipment running off of a generator.
Evalina was lifted from her mom by Mozambican obstetrician Angelica Zeferino, who was working shoulder to shoulder with her Finnish counterpart. Midwife Rosmariini Tolonen resuscitated Evalina, smiling with relief as the baby took a big breath and started to cry.
Her father, Paulo Zionjo, gently kissed Evalina’s cheek as Rosmariini placed his little girl in his arms for the first time. Then dad and baby sat, waiting for mom to get out of surgery.
“This is baby number three for this couple. Mom needed to have an emergency caesarian section and today we lost power, so we had to improvise with a back-up generator,” said Linda Stevenson, a Canadian Red Cross operating theatre nurse.
“We had a beautiful, successful delivery of a beautiful little girl. We are thrilled, it never gets old.”
A newborn Evalina looks up at her father Paulo Zionjo, while the pair waits for the mom to be finished in surgery. The baby was delivered by C-section by a Canadian/Finnish/Mozambican team during a power outage at Nhamatanda district hospital.
The team performed three emergency c-sections in two days, only one with full electricity. Each time the power went out, team members pulled together to work in one fluid movement.
“All of a sudden people see what needs to be done and they jump in. Somebody starts an IV, somebody moves the patient, somebody intubates, somebody takes the blood pressure. Everybody has a job, and it all gets done at the same time. It’s powerful,” said Linda.
Each of the surgeries was successful with some of the new mothers ready to go home in a couple of days.
Canadian nurse Patrick Raymond works to start an IV on a newborn at the Nhamatanda district hospital during a power outage. The Finnish/Canadian/Mozambican team delivered two babies by C-section running on the power of one generator for some light and medical equipment, after a power outage.
For Mozambican obstetrician Angelica Zeferino, it is a positive experience to work with a team of international experts and use new equipment.
“We had almost nothing in this spot, so I am very, very happy, not only me, but the entire team,” said Angelica.
“Thank you for giving the equipment and for being with us, teaching, sharing ideas and knowledge.”
On March 15, 2019, Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique, affecting over 1.8 million people, destroying approximately 111,000 homes and half a million hectares of agricultural land. The Canadian Red Cross responded by sending a field hospital, and supporting staff, to Nhamatanda in collaboration with the Finnish Red Cross and with the support of the Norwegian Red Cross.
The field hospital is made possible with the generous support of donors and the Government of Canada.

You can help those affected by making a donation to the Canadian Red Cross Cyclone Idai Appeal online

Related stories:

Stories from the Red Cross cholera treatment centre in Mozambique
Cyclone Idai: Canadian Red Cross sending field hospital and team to Mozambique

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