The last time Faridah Luyiga Mwanje saw her sister Remie alive, she was preparing to give birth to her fourth child at a top private hospital in Kampala, Uganda. Remie bled to death as a consequence of delivery complications and because the hospital didn’t have any blood on hand. When the announcement callings for donors to give B+ blood went out over hospital loudspeakers, it was already too late to save her. Remie’s son survived, but has cerebral palsy. His therapies are demanding and expensive. Like his older siblings, he is now motherless.
Health workers are often underpaid, or not paid at all, meaning there are too few skilled hands available to meet community needs. Medical supplies can be uncertain. In some countries, literacy levels don’t stretch past a 6th grade education, and these countries are struggling to recruit and train the health workers they so desperately need.
Each day, 17 mothers die from pregnancy or birth-related complications and 106 newborns die, according to White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. Following her sister’s death, Faridah turned her grief into action and began campaigning with the White Ribbon Alliance, joining their “Act Now to Save Mothers” campaign. The essence of their work is to educate citizens about the right to health services for mothers, and then activate those citizens to demand governments keep the promises they have already made to the people. These often range from establishing rural health centers, to properly paying health workers, to ensuring medications are supplied, to keeping facilities in good repair and training health workers to treat mothers with kindness and respect.
“We want global leaders to come and find out what our problems are. They have to ask us. We want them to give us a bigger voice.” Faridah pleaded at a UN event last year. “None of us understand the true cost of a mother lost,” she said. “Those lives are priceless. Only the widowers and orphans understand. They are deeply affected, and will be for the rest of their lives.”
This week marks the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights on April 11, marking a movement for making maternal health and rights a priority. It’s also World Health Worker Week – April 5-11, celebrating the amazing work that health workers do and an opportunity call on those in power to ensure that health workers have the training, supplies and support they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.
Take Action Challenge
These two issues of the health and well being of mothers in childbirth and proper training and support for health workers are inextricably linked. Join both conversations on social media using the hashtags #IntlMHDay and #healthworkerscount. Share why you think mothers deserve better care and why the health care providers in your life matter!
Image of Faridah Luyiga Mwanje, courtesy White Ribbon Alliance
Image of newborn (20 minutes old!), courtesy Chrysula Winegar | Taken in Mozambique as part of an International Reporting Project fellowship