the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

maternal mortality in africa

In healthcare on May 25, 2009 at 8:25 pm

maternal deaths

“Why don’t we have a global fund for maternal health, like the one for TB, malaria and AIDS?” A doctor asks the author of the lead article in sunday’s times, a sobering look at the (non)treatment of pregnant women in Africa.

When volunteers with minimal training are performing caesarean sections, when 13,000 mostly teenage mothers die per year, when overcrowded orphanages have a new mouth to feed almost on a daily basis, improvements in prevention campaigns–not just the dispersal of treatment–become essential. (In its first meaning: absolutely necessary, fundamental.) The solutions go beyond the “education” or “empowerment” of women–beautiful words or ideas often (but not always) lacking measurable action: frequent blood pressure checks, vitamins or food supplements, and pre-birth “waiting hospitals” should be expected, not exceptional, services for these women.

But what should a hypothetical UN or IMF program do about those women who never leave their homes for their child’s birth, like the Maasai teenage mothers I met two summers ago? I can point to a few paths forward: increased training and certification programs for community midwives, better basic hygiene and nutrition support, church- or community-supported women’s health education groups.

The stopgap efforts of physicians and volunteers in Tanzania are admirable, but further national or international aid should take steps to expose the government’s blindness to the systemic issues contributing to this disturbing trend, and demand political and economic investment in the future of the young women of Tanzania. 

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