Helping new mothers survive

May 8, 2004

SANA’A, YEMEN – Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Most of us will likely say thanks to your mom in some fashion.

Good thing. A mother’s job is not easy.

It’s a good time to also think about mothers in the developing world.

Some 600,000 die in childbirth every year. That’s 1,600 every day, more than one dead mother every minute. It really is a global terror.

It’s also an intolerable terror, because most can be saved.

One in four simply bleed to death. A medication costing less than a cup of coffee could stop that. But often neither properly-stocked clinics nor properly-trained medics are within reach.

Cultural ways and familial attitudes can also block proper medical care. Can you imagine two strong-armed men holding a woman upside down to move a breech baby? When ignorance rules, such things happen.

Few people know these issues better than my wife, Jean, an obstetrician who has worked with some of the world’s poorest women in places such as Yemen and various African countries. In response, she recently launched a new Canadian-based charity, Save the Mothers International ( Its aim is to create new infrastructures in developing countries by targeting professionals and teaching them public health leadership skills.

Starting in Uganda in 2005, the program will enrol professionals in health care, government, law, media and education in a university masters program near Uganda’s capital, Kampala. With a goal of 20 annual graduates, in five years 100 key leaders throughout the country will help champion mothers’ rights in practical ways.

Jean, who trained in obstetrics at the University of Western Ontario and occasionally lives in London, notes, “The solution is not just more medical people in hospitals or clinics. It’s a multi-disciplinary approach where everybody in society becomes involved in women’s health.”

This past century, we beat polio and smallpox. Space was explored. Genetic codes giving clues to life itself were cracked. And maternal death rates in the developing world are no worse than what the West saw 100 years ago.

Most can be prevented with the same proven formula: better access to proper care and resources.

The question is, how much do illiterate village women really count on the global agenda? The U.S. recently cut funding to UN safe maternity programs. Other rich countries such as Canada have not done better. In 1987, they met in Nairobi, pledging to halve maternal deaths by 2000. Instead, rates increased. Cheap midwifery training was offered, but nobody would pay to get mothers clean blood, other supplies, and, most-critically, better access to decent obstetrical services in the neediest rural areas.

We have political commitment for peacekeepers in Afghanistan. There’s now easy money for AIDS clinics in much of Africa. Some folks happily send clothes and toys to impoverished children around the world.

Not that these aren’t all worthy. But I do wonder, is a faceless mother in some Third World backwater who is trying to bring new life to the world, not sexy enough an issue to compete?

Here’s where, believe it or not, others can help. In time, donors will learn about Save the Mothers. In fact, it’s now getting attention in a national media awareness campaign. No doubt, this type of organization can make a lasting impact. And, as it launches, one item now in its war chest is a new book by Jean, Where Have All The Mothers Gone? Based on her Third World experiences, it’s a powerful collection of stories of mothers showing uncommon courage during childbirth. It’s like a few loaves and fishes, really, in need of being multiplied in the right hands.

Average Canadians, common foot-soldiers in a sense, can join this under-reported global battle by buying a copy and educating themselves. A full 100 per cent of the $10-plus-delivery price goes to Save the Mothers. Of course, the value of this kind of book goes beyond dollar price. Canadians could be part of something great, not the least of which is saving somebody’s mother.

In the end, how meaningful is that? Well, think of your own mom.

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May 8, 2004 • Posted in ,
Contact Thomas at [email protected]


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