MSF in Yemen: Helping Amid ConflictInstability continues to plague Yemen, exposing almost 20 million people to food insecurity and more than one million to cholera. The damage is evident in Yemen’s weak healthcare system, which leaves millions of people vulnerable. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is an organization that provides healthcare for people affected by conflict and poverty. Though warfare complicates operations on the ground, MSF in Yemen is not giving up.

The Challenges of Aid in Yemen

In 2018, an airstrike destroyed a newly built cholera treatment center. Fortunately, there were no patients or workers present at the time, but the vital project had to be put on pause until repairs and reconstruction could begin. Events like this threaten the effectiveness of MSF in Yemen and risk the lives of the 16 million people who lack basic healthcare.

MSF also runs 12 healthcare centers of its own in addition to the 20 hospitals the organization supports. Its operations have treated more than 1.6 million people suffering from injuries, disease and chronic illnesses. MSF’s activities in Yemen take place in a constantly changing and dangerous environment. Since 2015, constant fighting between various militant groups has damaged countless Yemeni health facilities, leaving only half fully functioning. Many hospitals and health facilities in the areas have closed down because of safety concerns or because they cannot pay workers.

MSF in Yemen

The facility that was destroyed was one of many new treatment centers responding to the cholera outbreak. Cholera is a serious issue in Yemen and has killed 2,184 people since April 2017. Because of the violence, almost 16 million Yemenis have suffered from reduced access to clean water and sanitation, which increases their vulnerability to cholera. MSF quickly reacted to the outbreak by opening 37 treatment centers and oral rehydration points. In just six months after the breakout, MSF admitted more than 100,000 cholera patients. While the threat of cholera has decreased since 2017, treatment centers remain a vital safe haven for those afflicted.

MSF responded to another issue caused by the lack of healthcare facilities: pregnancy. In 2017, MSF in Yemen helped 7,900 women deliver their babies. Pregnant mothers are especially vulnerable because they lack access to clinics. Even when there is a health facility nearby, traveling may be too dangerous or time-consuming. Consequently, mothers give birth at home, which exposes them to health risks.  Many pregnant women also don’t have access to prenatal care and can have preventable but fatal complications.

Treatment Centers In Yemen

MSF in Yemen dealt with the re-emergence of diphtheria in 2017. The organization acted quickly by opening up a treatment center in Ibb where 70 percent of cases were concentrated. MSF treated around 400 patients that year alone. As successful as that operation was, others remain an issue, like renal failure. Multiple renal failure treatment centers have been forced to close due to the conflict. Many facilities are under-equipped and some 4,000 patients are still left untreated.

Treatment centers are often too far, or treatment itself is too expensive. Patients require three dialysis sessions a week, so many will reduce the number of treatments to lower the cost. Unfortunately, this can be dangerous and ineffective in treating renal failure. MSF responded to the crisis and has helped more than 800 patients by offering 83,000 dialysis treatments and importing 800 tons of supplies.

More than 20 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, facing hunger, disease and displacement. MSF continues to provide aid through one of its largest programs in the world. Since 1986, MSF in Yemen has been compensating for the lack of effective healthcare, even amid the conflict.

Massarath Fatima

Photo: Flickr

How Abolishing Birth Limits in China Improves the Economy
As government officials convene in Shaanxi to discuss abolishing the birth limit in China, they are also beginning to understand just how the one-child limit has affected the economy, for better or for worse. Over the past three years, the Chinese government has worked towards eliminating the one-child limit and repurposing it to a two-child limit. However, in a recent reversal for the Communist Party, Chinese government officials are currently drafting ways to in fact increase childbirth and population growth, thereby abolishing birth limits in China.

The One-Child Policy in China

When Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proposed the one-child limit in 1979, he catalyzed a series of unintended social and economic implications. At the time, China was facing major food and housing shortages. Due to its exponentially growing population, hundreds of thousands of people were entering a state near poverty.  To combat these shortages, the one-child limit was placed on the people of China. Suddenly, China’s annual population growth rate dropped to a mere 0.6 percent.

Since 1980, China has been a global hub for economic expansion. In fact, decades of China’s economic boom have lifted hundreds of millions out of abject poverty and sent over 100 million men and women to college. However, recent studies attribute the economic boom not to the stagnant population growth rate, but rather to reform policies that loosened state control over the economy.

Consequences of Limited Population Growth

In fact, fertility rates have decreased to 2.1 in China, partially due to the birth limit and partially due to socioeconomic and cultural transformations, such as later marriage, postponing childbirth to pursue careers, longer birth intervals and fewer births. Researchers suggest that these transformations are not localized to China since countries that had similar fertility rates to China in the 1970s experienced the same decrease in fertility without a strict birth control policy.

The 1980 one-child limit was intended to be a temporary measure to alleviate economic pressures at the time. However, it lasted for decades, shaping an entire generation of people. Perhaps the most tangible effect is that of the aging workforce. China’s level of productivity, measured in output per hours, is at its lowest level since 1999. According to the International Monetary Fund, the number of people in their prime working age (ages 15 to 59) will decrease by almost 200 million over the next three decades. Because the labor force is dwindling, this can pose major pressures in economic and social development.

Changing Policy

Despite the negative impact of the one-child limit, Chinese officials are trying to reverse the effects by lifting strict birth control measures and abolishing birth limits in China. Just in the past three years, ever since the passage of the “two-child” policy, China has seen the percentage of families with two children increase from 36 percent to 51 percent. The National Health Commission claims that the “two-child” policy is working, as it encourages families to not be bound to just having one child.

Additionally, local governments are taking several steps to promote childbirth as the state governments work on policies such as education and housing subsidies and investments in clinics and preschools. These initiatives, coupled with officials’ proposal of abolishing birth limits in China, will help facilitate a better working economy for China.

– Shefali Kumar
Photo: Flickr

Every Mother CountsChristy Turlington is a world-famous model. Those in the fashion world know her from Calvin Klein, Maybelline and Versace, just to name a few of her modeling platforms. However, in addition to her modeling career, Christy Turlington helps poor pregnant women avoid death from dangerous complications during birth. Not only does she enjoy doing this more than she ever enjoyed modeling but she has also saved the lives of thousands of women who could then live their lives and care for their babies.

How It All Started

It all started in the birthing center in New York City’s St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital. Christy and her husband, Edward Burns, arrived at the center not long after her water broke. The pregnancy had been normal up to this point, and the birth of their child, Grace, seemed to go off without a hitch. She did not even need pain medication.

However, the placenta had become embedded into Christy’s uterine wall, causing her to bleed heavily. This is known as postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), and it kills 1,000 women around the world every day. The midwife began to suspect this was happening when Christy had not passed the afterbirth after 45 minutes. (Normally, it takes less than 20 minutes.) After another 25 minutes, the doctor had to come in and remove the placenta manually.

The following day, the excessive bleeding had stopped. Christy, knowing that the doctors would likely be able to save her life again, decided to get pregnant again. While carrying her second child, Finn, she and her mother took a trip to the latter’s hometown, San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Once there, Christy learned that PPH causes the majority of postpartum deaths not only there, but all over the developing world.

Turlington also learned that many pregnant women in the developing world have to walk to hospitals instead of driving; as a result, many simply choose to give birth at home, without any access to medical care. Learning this inspired Christy to found Every Mother Counts, a foundation that helps cut down on the maternal death rate.

The Charity and the Documentary

Every Mother Counts started out as an advocacy organization that simply aimed to make people aware of worldwide maternal deaths so that they could help. Their first act, spurred by Christy, was to make the documentary No Woman, No Cry. It was filmed in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and The U.S. over the span of a year and shows what birth is like in each country. The bottom line is that The U.S. is disproportionately better at helping women survive childbirth.

While advocacy remains a large part of Every Mother Counts’s overall mission, the organization has branched out over time to include other avenues to help. They sell several products, mostly clothing, and use the profits to help have a greater impact on the lives of the women they are helping. They host running events to raise even more donation money for their cause.

Their website contains forms that allow people to call, email or tweet their congressional leaders to get them to support bills that will help poor mothers survive childbirth. Every Mother Counts has had an impact on more than 680,800 individuals, including mothers, babies, and health care providers.

The Success of Every Mother Counts

Using only donation money, Every Mother Counts funds grants for projects that improve and save the lives of pregnant women in poor countries around the world. For example, in Malawi, they spent $113,740 to give portable solar suitcases to 40 rural clinics, which provided them with a reliable source of electricity with which to run their equipment.

In Syria, $40,350 was spent to help train and equip six midwives to deal with life-threatening emergencies, including giving them home visit kits, medicines, cell phones and more. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, $10,000 went to giving clinics delivery and postpartum beds, emergency supplies and incinerators to get rid of medical waste. All of these efforts and more have saved the lives of over 400,000 women worldwide.

Christy Turlington has had a huge impact on women’s lives as the founder and CEO of Every Mother Counts. She has saved thousands of lives, made many U.S. citizens aware of postmortem deaths in the developing world and given health centers the equipment that they need to prevent many birth-related tragedies. Although she continues to accept modeling jobs, they barely matter to her anymore. The fact of the matter is that Christy Turlington helps poor pregnant women around the world avoid becoming another health statistic.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

Top Causes of Maternal MortalityMaternal mortality often increases in countries where poverty levels are high. According to the World Health Organization, 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. This is because women do not always have access to sanitary birthing conditions, proper doctors or procedures for remedying labor complications.

However, some causes of maternal mortality are much more prominent than others, taking the lives of mothers every day. These are the top five causes of maternal mortality:

  1. Hemorrhaging, typically postpartum, claims the largest number of lives out of all the causes of maternal death. According to UNICEF, 27 percent of all maternal mortalities are due to hemorrhaging.

    Postpartum hemorrhaging refers to extremely heavy bleeding after giving birth. This bleeding should stop relatively soon as the uterus contracts to push out the placenta but if the contractions are not strong enough, blood may flow freely, causing a hemorrhage. Medical solutions to postpartum hemorrhaging may include getting a blood transfusion, which is incredibly difficult in remote and low-income parts of developing countries.

  2. The existence of pre-existing conditions that are aggravated by pregnancy is the second leading killer of mothers during labor. There are many medical conditions that, when coupled with pregnancy, can cause death. In many cases of maternal mortality, mothers are unaware of pre-existing conditions or they are unable to access safe abortions because they are illegal or too expensive in their country.

  3. Hypertension during pregnancy is when a woman has high blood pressure during pregnancy. If it continues beyond week 20 of the pregnancy, it can lead to preeclampsia, causing complications for both mother and child. Preeclampsia can cause maternal mortality if not recognized and treated quickly.

  4. Maternal sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is the body’s natural response to an infection, but it can quickly overwhelm the body’s functions and make it unable to cope. According to UNICEF, maternal sepsis claims eleven percent of maternal mortalities.

    Sepsis does have early warning signs, but these can be hard to notice and the situation can quickly become dangerous. In areas where access to antibiotics is limited, where it is difficult to reach a hospital quickly or where doctors are not properly trained, maternal sepsis may go unnoticed or untreated, resulting in maternal mortality.

  5. Unsafe or unsanitary abortions are responsible for eight percent of maternal mortalities. In low-income or developing nations, abortions may be illegal, forcing pregnant women to turn to homemade abortions or local methods. Often times, abortions that are done without proper techniques, tools or sanitation lead to infection and eventually death.

These are the top causes of maternal mortality, all of which can be remedied through increased funding and accessibility to proper medical facilities in developing nations. More often than not, women are left without the money or access to solutions for their medical issues, perpetuating the cycle of maternal mortality.

– Liyanga de Silva

Photo: Flickr

most effective drug for preventing maternal deathEach year, more than 300,000 women die in childbirth. The top three causes of global maternal deaths are severe bleeding, infections and high blood pressure at the time of birth. Often, pregnant women in developing countries are faced with an impossible decision: seek affordable care from untrained/unlicensed midwives or enter hospitals without being able to pay for modern treatment. It is extremely unlikely that women in this situation will receive the most effective drug for preventing maternal death.

Deaths from infections can easily be prevented through good hygiene practices by the patient and the medical staff attending to her. As for high blood pressure, the most fundamental precautionary measure is to educate the public on adolescent pregnancies, as this is often associated with maternal mortality from high blood pressure. Severe bleeding in childbirth can kill a healthy woman within several hours if proper attention and care are not given to her by her caretakers.

Often there are complications, such as bleeding, that require costly surgical operations or blood transfusions. If the mother is unable to afford the operation, she may not survive the excessive bleeding. In Sierra Leone, many people know at least one woman who has either died in childbirth or lost a fetus due to complications. Maternal care is the comprehensive indicator of the overall development of a country; the healthcare system for maternal health reflects the level of education, infrastructure and transparency of a nation.

Well educated nations with high literacy rates can still experience a shortage of qualified medical workers. Why? They are not properly paid or paid at all. The few qualified or highly educated emigrate for better opportunities and salaries. This resulting brain drain further exacerbates the crisis of maternal mortality. Prior to childbirth, there is also a delay in pregnant women seeking proper treatment. This delay can be attributed to a lack of confidence in the competence of the local healthcare facilities.

Thanks to U.N. funding, clinics in every nation are sponsored to employ local medical staff, which not only provides them with a salary, but with training as well. In addition to improved services, many patients benefit the from donation and careful administration of drugs. Among the most notable is tranexamic acid. Also known as TXA, this drug helps to control bleeding for trauma patients. It helps to stabilize a clot at the site of bleeding by preventing it from dissolving during formation. It has proven to be the most effective drug for preventing maternal death.

TXA works by preventing the conversion of plasminogen to plasmin; this promotes the accumulation of fibrin to form a complex known as the fibrin degradation products. It should be noted that TXA is not an alternative for blood transfusion; it is merely an important addition to this treatment. In addition to trauma patients, TXA has also proven effective in treating combat casualties. It has also been proven to be safe for patients.

In April 2017, the WHO launched a clinical trial dubbed the World Maternal Antifibrinolytic Trial. It consisted of 20,000 women from 21 countries who were diagnosed with postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). It was a randomized, double-blind trial with placebos for some of the participants. The organization wanted to see if bleeding persisted 30 minutes after the first dosage, and if it restarted within 24 hours. If bleeding did persist, it determined if a second dose was necessary.

What they found was that TXA reduced deaths in the trial, and it was evident that early treatment maximized the benefit. It was the most effective drug for preventing maternal death. In their words, “safe, effective and affordable PPH treatments are critical to saving the lives of pregnant women globally, and the findings of this trial have important implications for the delivery of high-quality maternity care.”

– Awad Bin-Jawed

Photo: Flickr

decreasing maternal morbidityAdolescent and young mothers all around the world struggle with depression, psychosocial stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Approximately 15.6 percent of pregnant women who live in low to middle-income countries suffer from anxiety and depression, which increases to about 20 percent after birth.

When mothers live with these health conditions, it can also result in adverse effects for their children. Maternal depression is often linked with lower cognitive scores among children under five. In addition, maternal depression can hinder the attachment of the mother to the infant, as well as the mother’s care of her child. The mother may also fail to adequately eat, bathe and care for herself. Suicide is a prominent cause of death for mothers who suffer from depression.

Efforts are currently being made in decreasing maternal morbidity. Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains, Global Mental Health and Stars in Global Health have invested $86 million for 215 innovations in protecting and nurturing early childhood brain development along with improving mental health treatments and services in low to middle-income countries. The Saving Brains program has had a lot of requests for a stronger focus on adolescent and young mothers, given the high rates of mental disorders that can begin during adolescence.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with Grand Challenges Canada for the purpose of decreasing maternal morbidity by meeting the mental health needs of the most vulnerable adolescent and young mothers. The partnership between the two organizations is currently considering project proposals that consider how the needs of adolescent and young mothers may differ from other populations, use innovative approaches to deploy the necessary resources in a timely manner and find creative methods of using outlets for information that are trusted by mothers and youth.

“It’s critically important but also insufficient for children to survive pregnancy and birth. They also need to thrive,” said Peter Singer, MD, chief executive officer of Grand Challenges Canada in an interview with Scope, which is published by Stanford Medicine. “One of three children, or 200 million worldwide, fail to reach their full potential because their brain development is not well supported, particularly in early childhood.”

Thriving and not just surviving may be the key to decreasing maternal morbidity worldwide. With organizations like Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continuously making efforts to tackle this issue, there may be a steady decrease in the number of adolescent and young mothers who struggle with mental health conditions along with a decrease in the number of children negatively impacted by their mothers who suffer from these circumstances.

– Blake Chambers

Photo: Flickr

Childbirth in South Sudan
The number one cause of death for women in South Sudan is complications from pregnancy and childbirth. This is detrimental to the child’s health as they grow up without a mother, and the complications can cause problems for the child and their health as well. The country as a whole ranks fifth in the world for maternal mortality rates.

One common complication of childbirth in South Sudan is postpartum hemorrhaging. This is a dangerous amount of blood loss from persistent bleeding after giving birth. This can cause death for both the child and the mother. Most midwives and care providers in South Sudan do not have the training to treat complications like these. Currently, a well-trained healthcare worker delivers only about one in five births.

Maternal complications in South Sudan needed to be addressed, and UNICEF, along with its partners, has acted on the matter by providing the country’s medical facilities with maternal medical kits. The kit is said to help childbirth in South Sudan become safe for both mother and baby.

So far, 3,000 maternal medical kits have been sent to health facilities in the northern region of the country. The kits are provided by UNICEF Germany and have critical items to help midwives properly treat pregnant women, including folic acid, anti-malarial drugs and oxytocin. The expectant mothers also receive a kit that includes soap, baby clothes, blankets and a plastic sheet.

The kits are a crucial necessity for women in South Sudan, as a very small percentage of pregnant women in the nation have access to proper healthcare and labor and delivery services. Most of the midwives and neonatal care providers in the country lack the proper training for high-risk pregnancies and are not able to perform simple procedures that can save the mother’s life during delivery. There is also a shortage of essential medicines and supplies, which the kits are alleviating. By addressing these needs, the maternal mortality rate can be greatly reduced and ensure better outcomes for mothers and infants in South Sudan.

– Chloe Turner

Photo: Flickr

Fertility Rates in Developing Countries
Reducing fertility rates in developing countries is critical for ending global poverty. Common methods of doing so include education, contraception and women’s empowerment. However, another important factor affecting fertility rates is child survival.

There are many biological and behavioral factors that affect women and families when children die early. Physiologically, the early death of an infant triggers the resumption in ovulation, leaving the mother at early risk of conceiving again. Additionally, parents who lose children early are more likely to attempt to replace lost children or have extra children as insurance or compensation.

To fight high fertility rates in developing countries and around the world, it is important to understand the rates, causes and prevention efforts of stillbirths and under-five mortality.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a stillbirth as “a baby born with no signs of life at or after 28 weeks’ gestation.” There are an estimated 2.6 million stillbirths per year across the globe, which equates to more than 7,178 occurring daily.

The majority of stillbirths happen in developing countries with little or no access to skilled health professionals during pregnancy and labor. The WHO estimates that of the 2.6 million yearly stillbirths, 90 percent occur in low and middle-income countries, 75 percent occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and 60 percent occur in rural areas of those Asian and African regions.

Stillbirths are caused by child birth complications, post-term pregnancy, maternal infections during pregnancy (such as malaria, syphilis and HIV), maternal disorders (such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes), fetal growth restrictions and congenital abnormalities.

Most stillbirths can be prevented with improved access to maternal healthcare. The Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP) aims to prevent these avoidable deaths and has a target of 12 stillbirths per 1,000 live births by 2030. To compare, today, the stillbirth rate in sub-Saharan Africa is 29 per 1,000 live births and, in developed countries, is three stillbirths per 1,000 live births on average.

An estimated 5.9 million children under five die every year around the world. However, instances in developing countries are higher. In low-income countries, the under-five mortality rate is about 76 deaths per 1,000 live births. To compare, in high-income countries, the under-five mortality rate is about seven deaths per 1,000 live births. Seventy percent of these deaths in developing countries are preventable and caused by acute lower respiratory infections (such as pneumonia), diarrhea, malaria, measles, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and neonatal conditions.

About 2.7 million children die annually during the first month of life. Seventy-five percent of these newborn deaths happen during the first week and up to 50 percent during the first 24 hours. Causes of neonatal and infant mortality include prematurity, low birth weight, infections, birth asphyxia, HIV-infected mothers and birth trauma.

The majority of these infant deaths are preventable with health measures and care during and after birth, particularly during the first week of life. Additionally, most deaths under the age of five can be prevented with access to basic goods and services such as nutrition, water, sanitation, shelter, education, healthcare and information. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to decrease instances of under-five mortality as well as stillbirths. Part of SDG goal three is to end preventable infant and child mortality by 2030.

Improving fertility rates has positive effects on economics, health, environment and education. And, contrary to a popular foreign aid myth, improving child survival rates can actually decrease population growth rates around the world. Ironically, fertility rates in developing countries and around the world can, in turn, affect stillbirth and under-five mortality rates. Addressing this perceivably unending cycle is critical to ending global poverty.

Francesca Montalto

Photo: Flickr

Cost of Giving BirthFor something as common and essential as the creation of life, delivering a child can come at quite the cost. Though the United States holds some of the steepest delivery-related costs in the world, many countries around the globe offer maternal healthcare at astronomical prices. These services cater to wealthier families and leave the poor and uninsured to struggle. In rural and low-income communities especially, the high cost of giving birth is very risky for women and newborns.

In many countries, there is a large quality gap between public and private hospitals. Even though there are public hospitals in South Africa, for example, that offer free healthcare services, these facilities often lack adequate equipment and accommodations for mothers and their newborns. One hospital outside of Johannesburg lost six infants around three years ago because it had run out of antiseptic soaps.

Private health facilities typically offer higher-quality healthcare services but at much steeper prices. On average, it costs a woman $2,000 to give birth at a private healthcare facility in South Africa. This is a cost that less than half of South Africa’s population can afford due to large income inequality problem and a widespread lack of health insurance coverage. Families instead settle for menial care or, in some cases, forgo care altogether.

As an alternative to formal care, women commonly hire traditional birth attendants (TBAs) to help with deliveries in rural areas of developing countries like Ethiopia. TBAs lack official training but are more affordable than midwives, who can cost upwards of 2,000 Ethiopian birr, about $90, or even more if a Caesarean-section is necessary. The result is a population that is underserved when it comes to delivery-side medical attention. Only 2 percent of deliveries in rural Ethiopia are administered by a health professional.

Tadelech Kesale, a 32-year-old mother from Ethiopia’s Wolayta province, has suffered due to insufficient care and the exorbitant cost of giving birth. Kesale had her first baby when she was 18 and has since lost three of her six children, one of whom was stillborn. Kesale typically earns two to three birr, equivalent to a tenth of a dollar, each week and was unable to hire a qualified professional for any of her deliveries.

“I gave birth at home with a traditional birth attendant,” Kesale said. “If I could afford it, I would go into a clinic. One of my friends, Zenebexh, died in labor – she just started bleeding after breakfast and fell down dead. A healer came but couldn’t do anything.”

The cost of giving birth in private hospitals in India is similarly prohibitive. Although government facilities hospitalize women and assist with delivery for free, many expecting mothers opt for private facilities for the higher quality of care. These facilities typically charge around $1,165 for basic delivery services $3,100 for Caesarean-section deliveries.

The costliness of Caesarean-sections and other procedures can be deterrents for poorer mothers who are faced with complications during labor or pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that only 35 percent of women in developing countries receive the care they need when faced with complications. When such needs go unmet, both mothers and their babies face life-threatening medical risks.

The costs of transport to and from health centers can also be discouraging for expecting mothers, forcing them to deliver at home or in other unsterilized spaces. In rural areas especially, transportation is necessary to travel the long distances to health centers, though it is not always readily available. Aside from being expensive, it can also be scarce; as a result, many women deliver in their houses. When complications arise during delivery, this can be especially perilous.

Though there is no one way to remedy the astronomical cost of giving birth in countries around the globe, organizations like Oxfam are calling on the U.S. and other developed nations to send increased aid to countries with high rates of maternal and infant mortality. This aid can serve mothers and their babies in a myriad of ways, from covering basic health care costs to making it more possible for new moms to take time off from work after delivery. Ultimately, it will mitigate the steep costs many families must meet during and after pregnancy, providing mothers with the assistance they need to have safe, successful deliveries.

Sabine Poux

Photo: Flickr


The winning team in Northwestern University’s 4th Annual Global Health Case Competition proposed a sustainable, long-term health plan in the form of a “birth kit” to reduce neonatal mortality in Nigeria.

Every day, nearly 2,300 Nigerian children under the age of five lose their lives. According to UNICEF, essential medical care during childbirth and the weeks following would have prevented most of these deaths.

Neonatal mortality in Nigeria constitutes a quarter of deaths among children under five. A majority of these deaths occur within the first week after birth and are caused by birth asphyxia, infection and premature birth.

On Feb. 18, 2017, Northwestern conducted its annual health case competition. For the fourth year, the university invited students to propose solutions to a 21st-century global health challenge to raise awareness and encourage innovative thinking. The 2017 competition included six teams consisting of five students each from different schools.

The 2017 case centered around neonatal mortality in Nigeria and the implementation of chlorhexidine, an inexpensive and effective antiseptic gel. Severe infection and sepsis, an immune response to bacterial infection in the bloodstream, are two of the leading causes of neonatal death in Nigeria. The students’ assignment involved integrating chlorhexidine into “Nigeria’s healthcare institutions, culture, and maternal care regime.”

The winning team’s three-year implementation plan centers around a “birth kit,” which includes the chlorhexidine gel and other materials essential for home births. The umbilical cord is a common entry point for infectious diseases, so the gel would be used to sanitize and protect mothers and their newborns. Sustainability was the team’s focal point. They proposed a partnership with a nonprofit to help cooperatively create a demand for the birth kit, then slowly normalize chlorhexidine in Nigeria’s childcare culture.

Courtney Zhu, a member of the winning team and a sophomore studying journalism and global health, said, “From this experience, I gained insight into the mechanism of tackling modern health challenges, and realized just how valuable collaboration is in a multidimensional field like global health.”

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr