Dakar, Senegal

By Olivia Roberts

The healthcare system in Senegal functions almost exclusively through the capital region of Dakar where most of the primary doctor’s practice. Asbef is a health clinic for infection, family planning and birth, as well as, maternal, prenatal and postnatal care.The facility works to  provide methods for practicing safe sex with regards to both pregnancy and STD’s.  Although family planning was introduced in 1960 by the private Blue Cross Clinic, private health care is extremely expensive and unaffordable for many people in Senegal.

Vaccinations and treatments for certain diseases are free in Senegal. The health service expenses at Asbef are significantly lower than private services. Therefore, most of Asbef patients are middle class citizens. Asbef provides clients with free HIV testing as well as free mosquito nets to protect against diseases like malaria and yellow fever.

During my visit at Asbef, I met several nurses. I shadowed a nurse who was in the midst of offering several women various forms of birth control. The prevalence of contraception is low in Urban Senegal – especially among young women. The two most common contraceptive options women choose are the pill and the injection. Each client the nurse worked with had a different circumstance. The nurse was kind and patient. She listened very intently and worked to find a genuine solution for each woman. I watched her measure and record the blood pressure and the weight of each patient. She carefully performed a genital examination on the first patient to check if she had any vaginal infection. The second patient sought a new form of birth control. She decided to use the contraceptive injection. The nurse prepared the injection while the woman went to purchase her contraceptive. The client seemed overall satisfied with her service.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Maternité Bloc Opératoire of the clinic where I met two nurses that had just finished delivering a baby girl. The infant mortality rate is 52.72 per 1,000 births in Senegal. One can say that Senegal’s infant mortality is incredibly high when compared to the United States and Europe. Malnutrition is a serious and common issue in Senegal and is in part responsible for infant mortality as well as infectious diseases, neonatal, and pregnancy related conditions as well as the disruption of health services and poor food security. The mother of the mother giving birth was overwhelmed with emotion and tears when she heard her daughter scream from the waiting room. I waited patiently to come in with the permission of the facility to take pictures. They delivered the baby safely and the mother was very pleased with the delivery service. The child was in good health at birth.

The nurses also informed me that the majority of the clients are familiar with their health care options before they come to Asbef. However, there is still a need to educate the residents in rural communities outside of Dakar. Since the majority of health care services are limited to the capital region, Asbef travels to Dakar’s bordering rural areas. Asbef’s facilitators are trained to offer and teach village communities sex education. The goal is to teach the youth ways to prevent disease and efficiently plan for pregnancy. Asbeth also incorporates their sex education programs with the secondary schools in Dakar. Thanks mainly to state education and treatment programs, HIV/AIDS infection rates are now at less than 1% as of 2012. This is huge progress for Senegal.