The miracle of childbirth is unforgettable. When you gave birth, probably a doctor, nurse or midwife was there at every step, telling you what to expect and reassuring you that everything would be okay. Your husband or partner or best friend was there, too, holding your hand. Fear, excitement, pain and ‘please can this be over!’ all hit you at once. But in the end, you delivered a beautiful baby and it was all worth it.
In many places around the world, pregnant women face a far different reality. More than 280,000 women die every year due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The outcome for newborns is far worse—nearly 1.5 million children die on the first day of birth. Most of these deaths occur in countries where family and health resources are low and access to care is not easy. A combination of poor transportation and health infrastructure and lack of skilled health care providers leads to lives lost or lifelong disabilities.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the most dangerous region in which to be born. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP), led by Jhpiego, surveyed health care providers in seven African countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zanzibar. More than 5,600 prenatal visits and births were observed and more than 640 health facilities surveyed. The results were astonishing. On average, only 53 percent of pregnant women had providers who explained procedures to them before proceeding, 39 percent of women were encouraged to have a support person present throughout labor and birth and less than one-third of health care providers ever asked a woman if she had any questions.
Labor often occurs in dirty rooms with little privacy and it is common to share a postpartum bed with two other women, or deliver in a health facility with no electricity or running water. But countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda are using the results of this quality of care survey to improve health services for women and newborns. They are updating emergency delivery skills of health care providers, improving availability of key medications and supplies and working with communities to develop sustainable health solutions.
Labor and childbirth can be dangerous in any part of the world. Childbirth in the United States, for example, is not totally risk-free. According to Save the Children’s annual ranking of the best places to be a mother, the United States is ranked 30 out of 176 countries; the list is determined by factors such as the chances a woman will survive childbirth, education level and political representation of women. Mothers everywhere should be able to experience a safe birth—it’s a basic human right!
Ensuring women give birth with a skilled health provider, such as a doctor, nurse or midwife, is among the best ways to prevent deaths of mothers and newborns. Bringing quality health care closer to where women live is another key approach that can save lives. The main causes of maternal deaths—hemorrhaging after birth, infections and pregnancy-related hypertension—and the top cause of newborn deaths—severe difficulty breathing or asphyxia—are all preventable. Whether a woman lives in New York or Nairobi, she should have a reasonable expectation that she will receive respectful care from a skilled health provider, survive childbirth and be a mother to her child.
Take Action Challenge
Show your support for healthy pregnancies and deliveries. Learn more about Jhpiego’s work in this key area at www.jhpiego.org. You can learn more about their work on maternal, newborn and child health here.
Jhpiego is an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University. Linda Diep is Social Media and Communications Specialist with Jhpiego.
Photo credit: image courtesy of Jhpiego