The Rose of Masisi: Providing Maternal Care in North Kivu

Sandra Smiley/MSF

Agathe Farini Sena, otherwise known as Maman Agathe, is a counselor at the Village d’Accueil, or Home Village, in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Women with high-risk pregnancies stay at the facility as they wait to give birth. This way, when the time comes, they have access to high-quality health care at the adjacent MSF-supported Masisi general hospital to ensure they give birth safely.

Last year at the Masisi Hospital, MSF and Ministry of Health teams delivered more than 3,000 babies, more than 900 of them to women staying at the Village d’Accueil.

First port of call

Maman Agathe’s job is to make sure the 70-odd mothers-to-be staying at the Village d’Accueil are happy, healthy and at ease in the days before the big event. She helps these women—many of whom have been displaced or otherwise affected by North Kivu’s decades-long war—as they settle in to the facility.

Whether they have concerns about their health, material needs or just want some moral support, Agathe is their first port of call, and her bright pink blouse and resonant laugh make her difficult to miss.

Lack of access to health care

Accessing quality health care is not an easy task in conflict-ridden North Kivu province. Health care facilities often demand payment for treatment. Many do not have the equipment, drugs and skilled medical personnel necessary to give appropriate care.

People are frequently harassed, robbed or attacked by bandits and members of armed groups while making the often long and difficult journey to health centers and hospitals. Recurrent displacement also makes accessing health care problematic.

As she has been personally affected by the conflict in North Kivu—her husband died during the war in 1994—Agathe understands where the women she is working with are coming from.

“I don’t see these pregnant women as pregnant women, I see them as my children,” she said. “I have to chat with them every day. Because if I don’t, they will be afraid. Then how will I know what is troubling them?”

Starting the day

Since she began working at with MSF in 2008, Maman Agathe has begun nearly every day with dancing and song. She and her 70 “children” sing in the different languages of eastern DRC, where ethnic and linguistic differences have been at the heart of the war for the last 20 years.

Not only is this a positive way to start the day, but Maman Agathe swears it can get labor going, too.

“Yes, women have had their waters break or their contractions start while singing and dancing here,” she says. “It doesn’t happen often, but it happens nonetheless!”

In 2014, the MSF teams in Masisi conducted more than 128,000 consultations and hospitalized more than 12,000 people. MSF has been offering primary and secondary health care free of charge in the Masisi health zone since 2007.  

Read more about MSF's work in women's health in Because Tomorrow Needs Her

Maman Agathe gives a hug to one of the women at the Village d’Accueil.
Sandra Smiley/MSF