Maternal/child mortality

The UNICEF report below, issued yesterday (9/19/08), corroborates my experience in Kenya.  In May of this year in the village of Kaluoki a midwife told me of the deaths of several women from hemorrhage during childbirth or miscarriage.  No one in the village or anywhere nearby owns a car, and so a woman in distress is taken to the nearest hospital—10 miles away--in an oxcart.  The midwife does not have surgical gloves and will not risk HIV infection by applying compression to stop bleeding unless she knows a woman is HIV negative.  And so mothers, and babies, die needlessly.


Would this happen in our country—even in the most remote areas?  You know the answer.


We also were told of 10 births this year to HIV+ women.  These mothers were  mistakenly told by local health care workers that they must not nurse their babies.  Eight of them, given milk mixed with unclean water, contracted severe diarrhea, became severely dehydrated, and died.


These are neither exaggerations nor tabloid sensations;  as cited in the report below, they are everyday realities faced by the majority of women in developing countries.  These are women I know, work with, and have come to love.


When the nursing student Bray Johnson and I visited a Maasai village in western Kenya, every woman we spoke with had been circumcised.  Maasai babies weigh an average of 4 ½ lbs. at birth because the women are purposely starved during pregnancy.  The reason for this is unknown, but of course it adds considerably to the maternal and infant death rate.


Regarding female genital mutilation:  A modest beginning of change is to require that a new, sterile blade be used on each 13-year old at circumcision, instead of using the same blade on all the girls.  Does this sound like endorsement of brutality?  Yes.  However, it is the best we can hope for at this time.   This is a reality far different from any in this country.  Please think about this and give thanks today as you embrace your daughter, your mother, your woman friend. 


We have been invited back to the Maasai village by some of the young leaders who know that change must come.  In 2009 I hope to bring a small group of HARAMBEE volunteers to spend time with the Maasai and see if we can begin conversations about  modifying the age-old customs that bring pain and early death to our sisters there.  Would you like to join us or contribute to this initiative in some way?



UNICEF: Report highlights risk of maternal mortality in developing world


Nearly all maternal deaths occur in developing countries; over 80 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia


GENEVA, 19 September 2008 - A new report on maternal mortality, released by UNICEF today, highlights the risks faced during pregnancy and childbirth by women in developing countries.


Progress for Children: A Report Card on Maternal Mortality states that, according to the latest data, more than 99 per cent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with some 84 per cent concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

“The tragic fact is that every year more than half a million women lose their lives as a result of complications due to pregnancy or childbirth,” said Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Chief of Health.  “The causes of maternal mortality are clear – as are the means to combat them. Yet women continue to die unnecessarily.”

Haemorrhage is the most common cause of death, particularly in Africa and Asia. A woman’s overall health – including her nutritional level and HIV status – also influences the chances of a positive outcome to her pregnancy and childbirth. Other influences include societal factors, such as poverty, inequity and general attitudes towards women and their health. Maternal mortality rates are often impacted by cultural or traditional practices that often prevent women from seeking delivery or post-partum care.