maternal health

Sister: An Unflinching Look at Maternal Health Worldwide

Title still for Sister, showing the word "Sister" over a world mapby Roxanna Bennett

“Pregnancy is a normal physiological event,” states Goitom Berhane, a health officer in residency at a rural hospital in Ethiopia. “This is not a disease. It is only that society is not organized enough to handle it, to appreciate its risks. It has risks whether it’s in Europe or Africa. Wherever you are, pregnancy is always a challenge.”

An unflinching look at the stark and bloody reality of infant and maternal mortality, the new documentary Sister follows maternal health care workers in Ethiopia, Haiti and Cambodia. Beautifully shot, Sister captures both agonizing and ecstatic moments in birth and delivery. from a woman whose fetus is dead inside of her, to a successful emergency Caesarian operation.

In the U.S., one in 4,800 women die from childbirth-related causes. The statistics in other parts of the world are staggering. In Haiti, one in 48 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Cambodia, one in 44 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Ethiopia, one in 27 women will die of childbirth related causes – that’s 55 every day. Sister is the story behind the statistics, putting a human face on the very real suffering and death of women and infants across the planet.

Photo of Madam Bwa, maternal health worker in Haiti

Madam Bwa, photo by Alexandra Swati Guild

Madam Bwa, a 65 year old TBA (Traditional Birth Attendant), living in Haiti, started delivering babies when she was 12 years old.

“I have delivered about 12, 000 babies,” she boasts. While she has no formal medical training, she provides the the majority of primary maternal and prenatal health care and education in her community.

“God blessed me to serve the people in this community,” she says, “Mostly to prevent them from dying during delivery.”

“Shada is the most miserable part of the city,” Madam Bwa says as she navigates the narrow alleyways between rickety shelters, “It’s badly built. If you have to transport a sick or pregnant person there are no roads in Shada.” Read more

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism Leave a comment

Contraception is Essential Preventive Health Care

by Jarrah Hodge

Great  and informative new informational video from the Guttmacher Institute outlines the benefits of contraceptive use in the United States. ?As the Guttmacher folks say on the video’s YouTube page:

“Proper timing and spacing of births leads to healthier pregnancies; contraception, when used consistently, is highly effective; and cost can be a barrier to a woman using the contraceptive method that’s right for her.”

Full transcript is available at the Institute’s website here.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

West Sahel Emergency

by Jarrah Hodge

More than 18 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa (click here to check out the World Food Programme’s interactive map) are at risk of severe hunger due to a combination of bad weather, failed harvests, soaring food prices and market insecurity. Conflict in Mali has also forced 340,000 people from their homes, adding to the food insecurity. The crisis has been ongoing now for several months but NGOs and the UN are seeing things getting worse on the ground. Six national governments have declared states of emergency.

Save the Children Canada does excellent work on issues of maternal and child health around the world and I was asked to help by sharing information with GF readers about the West Sahel crisis. Save the Children is working with a group of NGOs called the Humanitarian Coalition, which has recently launched a joint appeal to respond to the drought and food crisis. They point out that mothers and children are typically the most vulnerable groups in this type of crisis. It’s estimated up to one million children are at risk of severe hunger in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Cameroun, and other neighbouring countries.

Canadian aid worker Annie Bodmer-Roy, who has spent the past month working in Niger, said there were alarming gaps in the food available in the Sahel region, where 18 million people are facing hunger.

“The situation in the Sahel is already appalling. In countries like Niger, families are struggling to survive on next to nothing, and children are paying the price…mothers have told me they have little or no food to feed their children…Our latest analysis shows just how bad the situation has become, and confirms our worst fears: a major emergency is now upon us.’’

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment

State of the World’s Mothers

Save the Children Report Cover

by Jarrah Hodge

This weekend many of us in the Western world will be celebrating Mother’s Day. But how are mothers faring here and around the globe? That’s the question Save the Children hopes to answer with their 13th annual State of the World’s Mothers report. The report ranks 165 countries around the globe, looking at factors such as mother’s health, education and economic status, as well as critical child indicators such as health and nutrition.

To jump right to the key results, the study showed Niger as the worst country in the world to be a mother, with Norway coming in as the best. Canada moved up one spot from last year, to place 19th. Save the Children noted that of the 10 countries at the bottom, 7 are in the midst of a food crisis. What many of these countries are seeing is a “vicious cycle” of malnourishment where malnourished mothers give birth to underweight babies. If the mother is not able to feed the baby adequately in the first 1000 days, this can have irreversible effects.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of more than 2.6 million child deaths each year. 27% of children worldwide are “stunted”, which means they body and mind have suffered permanent damage due to malnutrition. So it is vital to take action, but the report clearly shows that it will be difficult to improve children’s health without improving mothers’ health. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

To Stephen Harper: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

by E. Cain

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced that he was making maternal and child health a top priority for Canada’s presidency of the G8, with a plan to be rolled out at a summit in June. He announced that Canada would champion a major initiative to confront these issues, saying in a statement “far too many lives and unexplored futures have already been lost for want of relatively simple health care”

As I read this I thought to myself, this doesn’t sound like the Harper I know.

Soon after, when pressed on the details of this initiative, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda announced that contraception and abortion (crucial components of maternal health) would not be added to the package of initiatives for the health plan. Her reasoning was that the Prime Minister didn’t want to re-generate any debate on abortion.

Now that sounds like the Harper I know.

In response to Harper’s newfound interest in maternal and child health, a document very appropriately titled “Reality Check” was released by the Canadian Labour Congress in partnership with several other groups. The objective of this report was to question the ability of the Harper Conservatives to lead international policy on maternal health given their dismal record on women’s equality in Canada.

And what a dismal record it is, whether one looks at childcare, employment equity, women’s poverty, funding to women’s programs, or the status of Aboriginal women and children; it is clear that Stephen Harper’s socially conservative agenda has hurt women.

While I certainly agree with the critique of Harper’s record, this same report claims that there has been a “systematic erosion” in the status of women and girls in Canada going back only as far as 2004. Well, you be the judge of that claim.

The report will be presented next week at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Given that Harper’s credibility will be taking a huge hit on the world stage, it should be very interesting to see how he responds.


Posted on by E. Cain in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment