I remember watching Dumbo as a child and seeing the big white birds deliver baby tigers, zebras and giraffes to their mothers in the zoo. I was naïve and had a wild imagination, which prompted the response from my mum, ‘No Davina, storks don’t bring babies’
The stark contrast between storks in Disney movies and the reality of maternal deaths is shocking. We tend to simplify the idea of mothers and babies but the real world is not black and white and is certainly not a Disney film. With maternal deaths still being prevalent across the globe, we focus our attention on Africa where 57 percent of maternal deaths occur. This crisis of maternal healthcare in Africa is taking a toll, making recent efforts by The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (also known as UN Women), government officials and other non-profit organisations, a topic worth your attention.
Imagine peeking into the newborn unit at a hospital in a country like Canada or Australia. Babies are wrapped in pink and blue blankets lying safe and sound in their glass beds. Maybe one of them will grow up to be a renowned journalist, speaking for those who don’t have a voice. One could work for the World Health Organisation, researching a cure for a disease, and another could become president someday. Meanwhile across the world, pregnant African women face on-going adversity due to poverty, malnutrition and violence. According to UNICEF, in 2015, an African child is five hundred times more likely to die in the first day of their life than at one month of age due to the failures of the African health care system.
According to the World Health Organisation’s 2015 Global Health Observatory data, 550 maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa every single day. This lack of resources has resulted in a lack of adequate health care, and poor prevention of HIV transmission. According to UN Women in 2013, more than fifty percent of women still deliver without the help of doctors or nurses seeing many women die due to haemorrhage, infection, hypertensive disorders, unsafe abortions and a lack of skilled birth attendants and comprehensive emergency care. The worst part is that for every woman who dies from childbirth, twenty more suffer from untreated injuries and disabilities. This results in women suffering lifelong pain and social and economic exclusion due to their inability to contribute during their pregnancy.
This singular crisis appears to be the product of all others. It stems from flawed government systems which facilitates gender inequality, outbreaks like the recent Zika and Ebola viruses, cycles of poverty and a lack of access to clean drinking water. The root of the problem is much deeper in which gender inequality is the main cause of women not receiving the proper healthcare. Experts stressed the importance of gender equality in reducing maternal mortality as part of the Africa Union Commission’s Annual Status Report on Maternal Newborn and Child Health in Africa in 2013. Gender inequality has a direct impact on a woman’s health, and her health is her right. Women’s social and economic statuses often make them unable to protect themselves and make empowered, independent decisions. A leading cause of the crisis is the high rate of underage pregnancies which leads to girls being forced out of school with no proper education, female mutilation, child marriages, violent relationships and cycles of poverty. The list goes on and on. Every day, thousands of women die. Maternal and newborn child health is vital to social, human and economic development on the continent.
The solution is coming.
Ngcuka urges young girls and mothers to stay in school; get an education and try to break the cycle of poverty. The success of the project to restore the hospital in Sierra Leone's Kenema is vital for other maternal and child health centres in Guinea, Liberia and many other countries. UN Women will work to advance women’s well being and health by working alongside governments to re- build health services, end child marriages and meet women’s needs during humanitarian crises. Many organisations are launching initiatives to strengthen reproductive healthcare services between hospitals and communities, to give proper information and education to women. I believe it is essential that women speak out, bring awareness and help each other because this creates a network of information. As we move forward, if we commit to ensuring women receive full human rights - their health will flourish, as will communities and nations.