Childbirth is often referred to as bringing new life into the world. As a woman in the United States, I’ve always subscribed to the bright halo of possibility that surrounds the arrival of a new baby.
However, since beginning my internship at AmeriCares, I’ve faced the dismal reality of maternal and child health in the developing world. Elikem Tomety Archer, AmeriCares director of Middle East and Africa partnerships, shattered my comfort zone with a simple remark: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=”~Elikem Archer”]“Childbirth in Africa is a life or death situation.”[/inlinetweet] The truth is, women and children are dying every day.
Elikem explained to me that in rural areas of Africa there are woman who “have no concept” that they need to see a doctor when going into labor. I was shocked to learn that in Liberia, 75 percent of women give birth outside of the health system, exponentially increasing the risk of complications. For example, obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal, is a common complication for immature or malnourished mothers who experience prolonged labor without proper medical attention.
Before my internship I had never heard the word fistula, nonetheless considered that a hole in the birthing canal could be a consequence of giving birth without a trained assistant. Lack of education, proper nutrition and medical care plague not only maternal health, but child health as well. Elikem recently returned from Ghana where she was visiting AmeriCares One Child One World™ program. One Child One World aims to upgrade the nutritional status of 30 orphan homes in Ghana.
When AmeriCares began the program in 2011, 27 percent of the children in the homes suffered from malnutrition and 50 percent of deaths under the age of five could be contributed to malnutrition. One Child One World offers nutritional training to the caregivers of the homes, in addition to medicines and nutritional supplements, to improve the health of the children under their care. Since AmeriCares began the program, more than 200 caregivers have received nutritional training.
Doctors, health facilities, and even transportation are basic functions of health care in the United States, yet are often considered luxuries in other parts of the world. Women and children in developing countries are dying because of preventable issues such as malnutrition and obstructed labor. I only hope that with more attention to maternal and child health, and the continued good work of organizations like AmeriCares, that progress will be made and pregnancy will no longer be a matter of life or death.