Over the last three decades, maternal and children’s health has improved significantly worldwide. The newborn survival rate has almost doubled since 1990 and maternal mortality rates have seen a 34% decrease since the beginning of the century. However, progress in health care is not globally even. Maternal and child health care in developing nations is out of reach for many expectant mothers and young children, resulting in high mortality rates.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 95% of women who died during pregnancy or labor in 2020 came from low and lower-middle-income countries. Furthermore, around 79% of neonatal deaths in the same year occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia. In both instances, lack of quality health care is the leading cause of death. Poverty, low numbers of qualified medical professionals and poor sanitation and resources are among the key reasons that health care in developing nations has been slow to advance. Muslim Hands is working to improve maternal and child health care in developing nations through its maternal health clinics and educational programs.
About Muslim Hands
Muslim Hands is a U.K.-based NGO that supports poverty-stricken communities in more than 30 developing nations. The organization, established in 1993, began as a volunteer movement in Nottingham to support victims of the Bosnian war. Muslim Hands’ work soon spiraled from grassroots activism into an international aid movement.
Muslim Hands tackles poverty in numerous ways, from training teachers to establishing schools to building water wells worldwide. Providing maternal and child health care in developing nations is among the organization’s highest priorities in the fight against global poverty.
The Motherkind Campaign
Motherkind is Muslim Hands’ maternal health campaign. It emphasizes educating women on health care and providing maternal health support in high-risk countries. For example, the organization has developed midwifery training courses in Niger and health workshops in Indian villages.
A key focus of the Motherkind campaign is running maternal health clinics in Somalia and Afghanistan. Afghanistan and Somalia are among the developing nations with the highest infant and maternal mortality rates because health care in general is largely inaccessible in these countries. Motherkind clinics offer services to give children and mothers the best possible chance of survival.
In both countries, malnutrition is rife due to rampant poverty and barriers created by political conflict. In Somalia, persistent droughts have caused food insecurity, increasing the likelihood of malnourishment. To address this issue and prevent pregnant women from developing micronutrient deficiency disorders, Motherkind clinics offer micronutrient supplements like Vitamin A, foliates and iron to pregnant and breastfeeding women. This supports healthier pregnancies and, for breastfeeding women, ensures that babies receive the nutrients necessary for healthy development.
The lack of health centers and medical professionals in Somalia and Afghanistan contributes to high rates of maternal and infant mortality. The WHO estimates that nations need a minimum of 23 medical professionals per 10,000 people to provide adequate health care services. In 2021, Afghanistan had just 4.6 medical professionals per 10,000 people, falling critically below WHO guidelines. Moreover, 43% of the Afghan population does not have a health center located within a half-hour’s travel, severely limiting access to vital health care. As a result, 57% of births in Afghanistan occur without any health care professionals present.
Improving Childbirth and Infant Development
Muslim Hands is working to end unattended births through its community outreach program. Motherkind clinics train health workers to conduct home visits during pregnancy, assist during labor and provide postnatal care for mothers and infants. This outreach program helps women give birth safely while building meaningful bonds and trust between mothers, babies and health workers. The Somalia clinic assists 15-20 births each month and the Afghanistan clinic treats approximately 44,000 people annually.
Muslim Hands also provides child health treatments. A critical service it provides is vaccinations to protect children from easily preventable but deadly diseases. This is especially important in Somalia where some children are not vaccinated at all. This is due to both a shortage of vaccines, especially in areas where ongoing conflict has led to restrictions and the fact that some parents are uninformed or misinformed about the importance of vaccinations.
Motherkind clinics offer vaccines to protect children against diseases including tuberculosis, measles and tetanus. The organization also gets to the root of vaccine distrust by hosting discussion sessions to inform parents about the necessity of immunization and dispel misinformation surrounding vaccination. To date, Muslim Hands has vaccinated upward of 70,000 infants and children in its clinics.
The Motherkind clinic in Somalia also conducts nutrition screenings for children and disseminates advice to mothers on how to provide a balanced, nutritious diet for their children using local ingredients.
Muslim Hands hopes to open more Motherkind clinics to continue improving maternal and child health care in developing nations. The organization is currently building a new health center in Mauritania, which will serve almost 2,000 people from four different villages. Additionally, Muslim Hands plans to expand its current health services to offer mental health care to women and children.
Despite uneven global development in maternal and child health care, Muslim Hands is working to provide better health care, support and resources for mothers and children in developing nations. The organization’s efforts to ensure that improvements in maternal and children’s health are felt on a global scale are helping to pave the way toward a more equitable future.
– Mohsina Alam