admin | February 1, 2021
Sirreh Samateh has worked outdoors through all eight of her pregnancies, labouring in the sun to grow rice and vegetables in Jali, her village in central Gambia. Her earlier pregnancies were not as difficult, but now she feels dizzy and her body shakes during the hottest part of the day. Health researchers say there is growing evidence that heat can lead to premature births and low birth weight. They advise pregnant women to reduce the risk to themselves and their babies by cutting back on work during the heat of the day, instead working at cooler times or in the shade, and by getting enough water and monitoring their temperature.
Sirreh Samateh has worked outdoors through all eight of her pregnancies, labouring in the sun to grow rice and vegetables in Jali, her village in central Gambia.
She joins other women hauling water from a well for their onion patch. Each recent year has been hotter than the last, Mrs. Samateh says.
In early February 2020, temperatures in her region hit 42 degrees Celsius—and February is the cold season. It’s a burden on the 41-year-old, who is seven months pregnant.
She says, “My previous pregnancies were not so difficult but now, around two to five o’clock, my whole body feels hot.”
Mrs. Samateh wears a flowered veil that covers her head and pregnant belly. She adds, “When I’m working in the sun, I feel dizzy and my whole body shakes.”
Mrs. Samateh is participating in a study to investigate how heat affects both mother and baby. There is growing evidence that heat may lead to premature births and low birth weight, according to health researcher Ana Bonell.
Mrs. Bonell specializes in tropical medicine and maternal health. She says that large studies from the United States and Europe have shown that higher temperatures are linked to an increase in premature births and babies born underweight, though researchers do not know how or why. A study she conducted found signs of foetal distress in 30% of women when mothers work outside in the heat.
African subsistence farmers, particularly women, are often neglected in scientific research, but this study focuses on them.
According to the World Health Organization, premature birth complications are the leading cause of death for children under five, and rates of pre-term births are increasing around the world.
Gambian women say that weather patterns are changing and heat is increasing, but there is relatively little they can do to adapt.
Jankey Drammeh is a 44-year-old farmer who is eight months pregnant. She says, “The sun is getting hotter and we have a smaller amount of rain during the rainy season.… For four years now we have noticed these changes.”
When it gets too hot, she stops and rests for a bit, pours water on her head, then keeps working.
Mrs. Bonell says that pregnant women can take steps to reduce the risks to themselves and their babies. These include reducing outdoor work during the heat of the day, getting enough water, and monitoring their temperature.
In Jali, women say they are more concerned about their livelihoods than their health. Mrs. Drammeh says, “I feel very worried about [climate change] because the aim of every farmer is to gain something. But every year we work harder and at the end of the day gain less.”
Farmer Jankey Drammeh. Credit Nellie Peyton/Thomson Reuters Foundation
This story is based on an article written by Nellie Peyton and published by Thomson Reuters Trust in February 2020, titled “Gambia’s labouring farmers show why premature births may boom in a warmer world.” To read the full story, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20200206142604-qegop/