Mothers who die, and worse, on International Women’s Day

We brought a new mattress, but the sooner we have a new building the better.

We brought a new mattress, but the sooner we have a new building the better.

Because I am not someone who reads books my family sent me off with loads of appropriate articles for my two week break in Madeira, knowing that I won’t stop working anyway.
One series from the New Internationalist has me in tears, having learned earlier that it was International Women’s day, whatever that may mean, when it’s at home! The old Malawian priest, who had spent most of his days in California, was engaging on this, and on transfiguration, which was the gospel for today.
In February, Charity, our human relations guru in Malawi told us of one of our women (she lives where we work in Lusangazi) who assists villagers, with the birth of their children in her home. She is a birth attendant and has got some government training. The news came on the last day of our visit and we are relying on pictures for the visuals.
We asked how W4Z could help her out. The shopping list was short and shocking; she needed plastic for the roof to keep the water out, a plastic apron, plastic gloves if it was possible, wellingtons, a torch and later a mattress. This to me, looks like the biggest big step backwards from the stable Bethlahem.
This women needs all the help we can give, like a new building, a water pump for clean water, a concrete floor, hygienic walls, a little equipment, not to mention drugs, painkillers. You might well ask, how would I know, but when I had kidney stones recently, the nurses told me that the pain is something like child birth; I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy; I wanted to die it was so bad.
We didn’t commit to Malawi to do anything for thousands of people, we thought in terms of one at a time; one well, one pump, one dam and now alleviating the suffering of one woman or one newborn.
You might think it simplistic, but should we wait for someone else, the government maybe, UNICEF or the UN, who will spend fortunes on research and white jeeps; no, we’ll give it a try and we are now on it.
BUT it is not that simple. Most, 34% of maternal deaths are as a result of haemorrhage, which needs serious consideration, as does the whole package of HIV/Aids, Infection, Hypertension, Anaemia or Obstructed labour. Childbirth seems natural and simple yet it’s not.
Thankfully advice and help is on the way from homebirth midwife and daughter in law, Melissa and friend Johanna.
If this program is to expand, we need training for these remote, rural, birth attendants, Midwife help, ante and post natal clinics and of course an ambulance service.
In Malawi, there are 16 maternal and 37 neonatal infant deaths every day. Drastically understaffed, 95% of the country’s midwives are based in urban centres while most of the population, and deaths, are in the countryside. Nurse midwives are scarce in rural areas, because the work can be seven days a week, as babies don’t recognise weekends. People with such qualifications prefer to work for NGO’s, with less work and more pay, if they stay in Malawi at all.
In Malawi, most rural women give birth at home as a result of the long travel distance and the poor roads; the average travel distance is 20km, on foot, on a bicycle or a wheelbarrow!!
Now comes the worse bit!
The most demeaning nightmare any woman could suffer is what is called an obstetric fistula, caused by prolonged labour where pressure of the child’s head on the pelvis tissue creates a hole which leads to an inability to control urine and faeces. A practice in parts of Malawi which exacerbates this is that the decision to seek medical help is in the hands of the Uncle. You can imagine what happens if he is not cooperative, not around or drunk.
Another traditional or chosen belief is that the first born should be born at home, so that the father should attend, believing that complications indicate infidelity. Pregnancies at a young age, also adds to the number.
Finally Malawi has one doctor and four clinical officers, qualified to carry out fistula repairs in all of Malawi, for 16 million of a population.
Oh! About 8 million won’t ever have this problem.
Every child born is a miracle, but every fistula repaired must be the greatest miracle of all for those women who are chased from their homes, banished by their communities to live and die destitute.
Malawi will tell you it’s the warm heart of Africa, what a load of rubbish
If our little action saves one life, then it will be worthwhile.
Would you like to help us?


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