Sierra Leone-born doctor hopes to reduce maternal mortality rate in home country

Deacon Kent Ferris
Dr. Victor Lamin, center, talks about maternal mortality in his home country, Sierra Leone, with nurse Ann Elsbecker of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and Father Jeff Belger, priest director of Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City earlier this month at Newman Center.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — One in 20 women in Sierra Leone die during pregnancy or childbirth, according to the latest United Nations estimate. Though this is an improvement from one in eight deaths reported about 15 years ago, the country remains “one of the worst places on earth to give birth,” said Dr. Victor Lamin, a Sierra Leone native. “I have friends and relatives losing their lives trying to give life… My people are dying. Families are in disarray as the loss of a mother creates a lot of vacuums.”
Dr. Lamin, a University of Iowa Hospital research fellow who is Catholic, recently established Sierra Lyoa, a nonprofit organization he hopes will improve maternal health in the west-African country ravaged by civil war from 1991-2002. UNICEF identifies poor healthcare practices and sub-standard and ill-equipped health care facilities for the “staggering (maternal death) figures.”
The availability and administration of prenatal vitamins could improve outcomes for some women and children, Dr. Lamin believes. “Since the majority live (on income) below a dollar per day, a majority of pregnant women are anemic and die during the (birthing) process if care is not taken. Therefore, this prenatal vitamin will be a boost to their health system.”
Earlier this year, Catholic Medical Mission Board, Inc. (CMMB) heard about Dr. Lamin’s project and donated 75,000 bottles of prenatal vitamins. CMMB’s Medical Donations Program (MDP) has been supporting various organizations for decades but Dr. Lamin’s organization is the first to receive prenatal vitamins through the MDP. “We are incredibly excited by the scope and ambition of Victor’s project,” said Glenn Erickson, senior specialist for consignee compliance and communications for the MDP. To ship the vitamins, Sierra Lyoa must raise roughly $10,000. Erikson noted that international shipping is a “complex and expensive process.”
Diocese offers support
Dr. Lamin reached out to the Diocese of Davenport to inquire about funding opportunities. Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action, met with Dr. Lamin in Iowa City to learn more about the project.
Deacon Ferris said he was touched by Dr. Lamin’s passion to help families in his home country. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the fate of two generations hangs in the balance,” the deacon said. “The complete and utter devastation that Victor saw by way of Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war, the loss of 500,000 fellow citizens and the complete decimation of the medical delivery system is something that has left a deep impression on Victor.”
Deacon Ferris secured $1,000 in diocesan Propagation of Faith funds for the project. This type of funding relates to foreign mission work, he said. He referenced the situation in Sierra Leone during his first homilies as a deacon earlier this month. He also set up an informal meeting with Dr. Lamin and Catholic leaders in the Iowa City area. Ann Elsbecker, a nurse and a member of St. Thomas More-Coralville’s social justice commission, attended. “I have worked in the obstetrics/pediatrics department for almost 20 years, so it was very easy to be interested in this,” she said. “It was wonderful to hear about everything he has done to help pregnant women in his home country.” After the meeting, the parish’s social justice commission donated $250 to the project.
Making plans
Donations total $2,000 so far. When Dr. Lamin secures the funds to ship the vitamins he will follow the shipment to Sierra Leone, documenting every step in the process and reporting to donors about the vitamins’ utilization. “This will reveal the impact of the vitamins,” he said.
Deacon Ferris hopes the generosity of the Davenport Diocese and other donors will encourage others to support the project. “We look forward to hearing about the success of this project from updates from Victor in the future.”
For more information, contact Dr. Lamin at

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