postpartum hemorrhaging
In the advanced world, a postpartum hemorrhage is a very manageable and preventable condition; however, postpartum hemorrhaging is a leading cause of maternal mortality. A staggering 99 percent of all deaths resulting from postpartum hemorrhaging occur in lower income countries. Postpartum hemorrhaging is responsible for 59 percent of maternal deaths in Burkina Faso, 43 percent in Indonesia and 52 percent in the Philippines.

Why Postpartum Hemorrhaging Is Common

In these developing countries, the increased frequency of postpartum hemorrhages is due to a lack of experienced obstetricians and caregivers who can properly treat the condition. There is also a lack of access to proper medications as well as care for those medications.

Oxytocin is currently the most common drug prescribed for preventing postpartum hemorrhages. The World Health Organization recommends that oxytocin be routinely administered and actively managed; however, oxytocin must be stored and transported at two to eight degrees Celsius, two conditions of which developing countries cannot accommodate.

A Possible Solution

A rival drug has been in the works to be as efficient as oxytocin in preventing excessive bleeding post childbirth as well as be more manageable in the living conditions of developing countries. The drug is a heat-stable carbetocin. This type of drug does not need refrigeration and can maintain its efficacy for at least three years when stored at 30 degrees Celsius. These requirements are far more realistic and achievable in developing communities.

The World Health Organization conducted a comparative study between the heat-stable carbetocin and oxytocin for prevention of postpartum hemorrhages. Approximately 30,000 women were sampled and given either drug to study the effects each had on prevention. It was concluded that the heat-stable carbetocin was not inferior to oxytocin.

Saving Mothers’ Lives

With such a high rate of deaths from postpartum hemorrhaging in developing countries due to the strict requirements for oxytocin that cannot be met, the heat-stable carbetocin will drastically improve the mortality rates. The new drug will be readily available and easily managed where it was once not.

Permitting the usage of the heat-stable carbetocin has many benefits that will better developing countries in a multitude of ways. If used widely, the drug could very possibly put an end to this tragically common occurrence.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Healthcare in Mexico
Eight years ago, The Economist, a British business publication, described maternal healthcare in Mexico as “a perilous journey.” Although deaths in labor had decreased by over a third in the past 20 years, they still remained among the highest in Latin America. Preventable complications were common among women, especially those of indigenous descent, largely as a result of infrastructural and social challenges.

Maternal Mortality

Since then, substantial effort has been put into solving this problem, especially in anticipation of the 2015 Millennial Development Goals. Globally, maternal mortality is often the result of wider social problems related to extreme poverty. It especially affects poor rural women who lack access to modern medical facilities. Solving maternal mortality in Mexico requires implementing a wider health infrastructure that serves these disenfranchised groups.

In Mexico, one of the groups most vulnerable to labor complications is girls under fifteen years old. This is not a generational issue, but rather a result of the dangers of underdeveloped girls giving birth. Twenty percent of Mexican births annually are a result of teenage pregnancy. Half of the sexually active teenage girls in Mexico become pregnant and 11,000 of Mexico’s births each year are to mothers between 10 and 14 years old.

While a proportion of these teenage pregnancies are the result of consensual encounters, some of them are the result of chronic child sexual abuse. One study found that a third of Mexican girls (and about a fifth of Mexican boys) had experienced sexual assault. Unfortunately, comprehensive statistics on the sexual abuse of children are relatively rare for developing countries, but it is likely that these high rates contribute to the phenomena of teenage pregnancy in Mexico.

Teenage Pregnancy and Healthcare Improvements

Ultimately, the key to achieving better maternal healthcare in Mexico lies in preventing teenage pregnancy and providing healthcare infrastructure. On the latter, the Mexican government has already established several programs targeting the country’s rural poor such as the Oportunidades (Opportunities) program, and additional support from the Mexican social security program. Specific programs, such as PRONTO, train hospital staff to intervene in dangerous labors and have shown to help reduce maternal mortality.

However, the Mexican government has taken little action against ending teenage pregnancy. This represents a major blindspot in the path towards achieving improved maternal healthcare in Mexico.

Maternal mortality and labor complications are especially common among young mothers; mothers under 15 are twice as likely to die in labor as older mothers. Their babies are more likely to die as well. Many of these teenage pregnancies could be prevented with education and awareness programs, but most of Mexico’s initiatives are geared towards older girls.

Supporting Maternal Healthcare

Several NGOs have taken initiative in reducing Mexican maternal mortality both by tackling infrastructure issues and generational sexual abuse. Conferences such as this year’s International Best Practices Meeting bring together experts from various fields and international organizations to discuss the issue.

Specifically, the role of midwives in the prevention of labor complications has also been reinforced in Mexican society. Such a prioritization could increase women’s access to maternal healthcare in Mexico, especially in rural areas.

Ultimately, despite the challenges facing Mexican mothers, there is hope that the danger of pregnancy in the country can be further reduced. Improved maternal healthcare in Mexico can be achieved with infrastructure and education, factors that also help combat extreme poverty in the country; only then, can Mexico truly achieve its development goals.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr

Reach Every Mother and Child Act
About 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. More than 17,000 children under the age of five die from treatable conditions. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2017 aims to end these preventable deaths.

7 Key Facts About The Reach Every Mother and Child Act

  1. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act is a bipartisan bill that has been introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill would create a five-year government strategy to end preventable newborn, child and maternal deaths globally by 2030. This act would focus on making existing programs more effective and emphasize the importance of “evidence-based interventions.” The United States’ government would work with governments of other countries, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and other entities to develop and implement this strategy.
  2. The act would require the U.S. president to appoint a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) employee to act as a Maternal and Child Survival Coordinator. The holder of this position would implement the government’s strategy to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and oversee all programs relating to maternal and child health and nutrition.
  3. In 2015, countries around the world adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These various goals aim to end global poverty. As the United States helped develop these goals, it is crucial for the U.S. government to take measures to achieve them. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act is one method by which the U.S. can work to attain these goals, particularly Goal 3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”
  4. More than 300,000 women die each year from preventable complications during and after pregnancy and childbirth. Such complications include high-blood pressure during pregnancy, bleeding during childbirth and infections after childbirth. Adequate healthcare can handle these difficulties. However, many poor women in rural, remote areas do not have access to adequate health care. By implementing plans to improve healthcare in such areas, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act can save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women around the world.
  5. Lack of access to quality healthcare is also detrimental to newborns and children under the age of five. More than six million children die before they reach the age of five each year, and 46 percent of these deaths occur during the neonatal period, the first month of a baby’s life. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of deaths during the neonatal period.
  6. Extreme poverty is also a major cause of child deaths. Children who live in poverty often experience malnutrition, which makes them vulnerable to diseases including pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. These diseases are the leading cause of death of children between the ages of one month and five years. These diseases are also preventable. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act would reduce the number of children who die from these diseases by alleviating poverty and improving access to medical services.
  7. Rep. Dave Reichert (D-WA-9), one of the members of Congress who introduced the bill in the House, asserts that the “Reach Act will give the world’s most in-need families the tools and resources to climb their way out of extreme poverty.” Enabling women and children to escape poverty gives these people the opportunity to contribute to and improve their communities. This in turn creates a “safer and more stable world by “strengthen[ing] security and stability.”

Support is Key

The Reach Every Mother and Child Act has strong support from more than 20 NGOs and from both Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress. The act would save millions of lives and is crucial to the reduction of maternal, infant and child mortality rates around the world.

– Laura Turner
Photo: Flickr

Single Mothers in Japan
Despite the stigma against single parents, single mothers in Japan are moving forward with the help of the Tokyo-based organization Single Mother by Choice and the new government-provided Child-Rearing Allowance.

Single Mothers in Japan

Since World War II, Japan has grown to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It boasts modern buildings, clean streets and is home to some of the richest people on earth. Yet, Japan’s poverty rate has consistently risen for the past 30 years, reaching 16.3 percent in 2017. However, the country still appears to be healthy and thriving. This dissonance between facts and appearances is due to the stigma surrounding poverty in Japan. Rather than admit to being poor, many people in Japan mask their financial needs hoping not to draw attention to themselves.

This problem is even worse for single mothers in Japan, who not only face greater cultural shame more consistently, but also have a harder time providing enough for their families. A whopping 56 percent of single-parent homes in which the parent is working live in poverty. As women have children, they often can no longer work the long, rigorous hours expected of Japanese employees. This time restriction then forces them to assume lower paid jobs with worse benefits — working women in Japan make 30 percent less on average than men doing the same job.

Cultural and Societal Norms

Japanese culture also dismisses female higher education, men often feeling “uncomfortable” to share the classroom with women; girls are pushed into two-year vocational schools instead. This setup is also seen as a benefit to women as they will then, allegedly, have more time to find a husband and start rearing children in the societally accepted timeframe. Such a collective attitude makes it more difficult for women to access education to higher paying jobs, and dismisses women who might pursue relationships and children outside of marriage.

The organization Single Mother by Choice was founded in Tokyo in 2014 to empower women and fight the taboo surrounding being a single mother in Japan. The group provides a community for women who desire to lead lives outside of Japan’s norms, and supplies information on prenatal care.

Single Mother By Choice

The organization focuses specifically on women who have chosen before becoming pregnant to have a child and raise them on their own. This decision can be especially difficult as the only legal use in Japan for sperm banks are for married couples, so many women become pregnant with a partner they do not intend to marry. Members of the group desire to end the myth that children of single parents cannot be happy and that women must be lifelong wives to be mothers.

The Japanese government has also begun to implement changes to help the growing numbers of single parents. Incentive programs have been put in place to bring single-parent families into smaller towns in the country, which helps grow local communities and provides the parent with a job, car and covers moving cost.

Moreover, many cities have implemented child-rearing allowances for single parents. This welfare system supplies families in need with residual income so that they will be able to effectively care for their children. As social stigmas begins to change, single mothers in Japan will continue to fight to live in a country that respects all tracks to motherhood — married or not.

– Sarah Dean
Photo: Flickr

HIV in South Africa
In 2007, the U.N. reported that South Africa has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, and that three-quarters of AIDS-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. There are numerous components that contribute to high levels of AIDS in a community. Among them are poverty, sexual violence, high rates of other sexually transmitted diseases and lack of access to proper healthcare.

The prevalence of HIV in South Africa is markedly high at 18.9 percent, although most people with the disease in the country are unaware that they have it. Due to the social stigma surrounding sexually transmitted diseases, many people do not want to get tested.

Groups Most Affected by HIV in South Africa

Children, unfortunately, comprise a large percentage of those affected by the disease in South Africa. It was estimated in 2016 that 320,000 children under the age of 14 are infected and only about half of them are receiving treatment. Orphans and children living in poverty are even more likely to become infected.

The lack of access to healthcare and the unhygienic living situations associated with poverty contribute to the higher rates of HIV in those communities. Additionally, parents are less likely to be educated about HIV prevention, which increases the likelihood of them spreading it to their children and other people. Without access to healthcare or knowledge about the disease, people are much less likely to get tested and take precautions to avoid infecting others.

Among young women, the prevalence of HIV in South Africa is especially high. In 2016, young women between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for 37 percent of new infections. The lower status of women, the prevalence of sexual violence against women and higher rates of poverty among women are all believed to be factors contributing to these higher rates compared to their male peers.

Nationwide Efforts Increase Awareness and Decrease Infection Rates

Thankfully, South Africa has the largest and most extensive HIV/AIDS treatment programs in the world. The program provides antiretroviral treatment for those already infected, and prophylaxis for pregnant women to prevent them from passing HIV to their unborn child.

The organization She Conquers is part of the effort to reduce infections. This is a national prevention campaign that aims to raise awareness about the disease to young women in South Africa and to provide treatment in more areas.

She Conquers also focuses on young women living in poverty by providing educational opportunities and support to stand up against gender-based violence. Thanks to this campaign, young women will have access to the right resources to protect themselves from HIV.

In addition, nationwide testing initiatives were launched that have resulted in 10 million people getting tested for HIV in South Africa every year. South Africa is hoping to reduce new infections from 270,000 to 100,000 by the year 2022.

Thanks to the nationwide efforts to mitigate the spread of HIV, people in South Africa are getting more access to resources to prevent the disease than ever. Young women and children living in poverty have opportunities to educate themselves and avoid contracting HIV. There is a lot of hope for those infected and those in danger of becoming infected with HIV in South Africa.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

treating obstetric fistula
Obstetric fistula is a condition in which there is an abnormal opening in a woman’s birth canal due to prolonged, obstructed labor. When left untreated, obstetric fistula leads to skin infections, kidney disorders, incontinence and death of the child, and is responsible for around 6 percent of all maternal deaths.

This ailment is highly preventable and treatable, yet there are an estimated two million women living with it untreated in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. An additional 50,000 to 100,000 women are diagnosed each year. These women are predominately underprivileged, poor and young.

Operation Fistula Raises Awareness of the Necessity of Treating Obstetric Fistula

Operation Fistula is one of the few organizations that has collected data on the condition. It has measured the burden on life that not treating obstetric fistula has had and compared that weight to that of other debilitating diseases. The organization found that living with obstetric fistula is ranked just below terminal cancer.

In developed countries, obstetric fistula is practically non-existent because women have access to the education and medical services that assure a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, these care services are not readily available to women in poverty-stricken areas.

Even with the establishment of care centers in the most prominently affected areas, the lack of attention that obstetric fistula receives is incredible. Because the condition is nearly unheard of in Europe and the U.S., there is limited global awareness and therefore very little capitalization. In fact, treating obstetric fistula receives less than1 percent of annual global health funding even though it is relatively inexpensive to care for.

Global Efforts Bring Treatments to Women in Need

To counter the mass neglect, Operation Fistula works to provide women with timely and high-quality treatment. It also plans to eliminate fistula altogether by 2045. The organization’s approach is data-centric and focuses on performance-based funding to surgeons who have successfully treated patients. This simple solution yielded four times the target amount of patient treatments between 2012 and 2014.

In addition, USAID’s Health Service Delivery project is working to make the proper medical services available by establishing treatment centers at multiple hospitals in Guinea, where obstetric fistula is extremely prevalent. The treatment centers allow women to undergo the reconstructive surgeries necessary for recovery.

Operation Fistula’s most recent effort in continuing its 2045 eradication plan is working with the government of Madagascar and the United Nations Population Fund to wipe out fistula in every region of the country.

Operation Fistula concentrates on the patient first and foremost. With its performance-based funding, Operation Fistula makes sure that each patient gets the best possible treatment rather than focusing solely on the number of patients treated. Through their endeavors, every woman that Operation Fistula has treated so far has gained back, on average, almost 11 years of healthy life.

While advancements in the global treatment of women with obstetric fistula have been made, there is still a need for prevention. Health professionals in affected areas are being trained continuously and efficiently in order to prevent and manage obstetric fistula, but the most basic method of prevention is through awareness.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

Mother of Orphans
Some life stories have the strength to change our outlook towards the world. They reveal the power of empathetic gestures and prove that even one person can bring about a huge transformation in the society irrespective of their position in life.

While we often hear about the works done by the government, world organizations and celebrities towards uplifting the poor, we rarely hear about the lesser-known superheroes who lack a paparazzi trail. One such human being is Sindhutai Sapkal, who devoted her entire life towards the welfare of the poor orphans in India.

Sindhutai Sapkal

Affectionately known as mai which means ‘mother’ in Marathi, Sapkal is a born fighter with strong levels of determination and willpower. She did not attend school and does not know much about feminism or politics, but her thinking and understanding of social issues has always been well beyond the realms of any modern educated person’s understanding. She personifies what “selfless love” stands for and has come to be known as the ‘Mother of Orphans.’

Early Life

Sapkal’s story might be unbelievable to many. She was born on November 14, 1948 in Pimpri Meghe village in the Wardha district of Maharashtra, India. She wanted to pursue an education and although her father was very supportive of it, the village tradition and patriarchy shattered her dreams. She was married off at the age of 12 to a 30-year-old man with whom she had an abusive relationship; by the time she was 20, she was already a mother to three children.

Over the years, she struggled to battle the abject poverty in her life. She was fearless and voiced her opinions against the corrupt practices of a local strongman who sold dried cow dungs, which are used as fuel in India, without providing profit to the villagers. This action created a huge uproar in the village and the district collector had to intervene and put an end to the illegal practice.

Out of strong contempt for the woman, the strongman urged her husband to leave her. Since patriarchy is deep-rooted in the society, Sapkal’s husband did exactly that. Little did she know then that this ending was actually the beginning of her calling to become the ‘Mother of Orphans.’

Journey towards becoming the Mother of Orphans

Sapkal started her journey as a social activist in her early twenties when she was abandoned by her husband and thrown out into the streets. She was nine months pregnant when the world rejected her and left her to die. But, without the help of a single person, this indomitable woman survived despite all odds and gave birth to a baby girl in a cow shelter and cut the umbilical cord using a sharp stone.

She then walked several kilometres to her mother’s house but was unwelcomed there. Setting aside the thoughts of suicide, this woman started begging on the streets of Maharashtra to feed herself and her newly born child.

While struggling to survive on the streets, Sapkal was pained to see the plight of poor orphan children who lived their life begging sans any touch of care or warmth. Having lost her own childhood to patriarchy, this young mother took it upon herself to embrace these young people and provide them with whatever little she could.

Sapkal then started begging in earnest for these kids by singing in the local trains of Mumbai as she was determined to bring about a change in their lives. She slowly realized that taking care of them gave her a purpose and satisfaction in life, and thus decided to become the ‘Mother of Orphans’ by being a mother to every child in need of love and care.


After years of effort and struggle, Sapkal’s work slowly caught public attention and people started recognizing her efforts. In the year 2016, the D.Y. Patil College of Technology and Research, Mumbai conferred upon her the degree of Doctorate in Literature. So far, she has been honoured with more than 750 awards for her relentless and selfless social work. On March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day, she was awarded the Nari Shakti Award 2017 by the President of India.

Sapkal spends all the money from the awards towards uplifting those in need. She not only helps poverty-stricken children, but also offers her care to abandoned women. She now has a huge family of 36 daughter-in-laws, 207 son-in-laws and over 1000 grand kids. Many of her children went on to become lawyers and doctors and others run their own orphanages to help the poor and assist her in her noble goals.

Impact Through Film: Mee Sindhutai Sapkal

Sapkal’s life became an inspiration to many, and to celebrate this ‘Mother of Orphans,’ a Marathi filmmaker decided to make a film on her life. The film, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, was released in the year 2010, won several national awards and was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.

This warrior woman who started her life’s journey with nothing at all has proved that one does not have to be rich or in a higher political position to bring about a change in society. She has made possible the impossible, created history and won her personal battle against poverty. Sapkal’s actions made her a hero in regard to her own life, and also for the thousands of lives she changed with pure love and affection.

– Shruthi Nair
Photo: Flickr

Improvements in Maternal Health in Sierra Leone
The life expectancy of women in Sierra Leone is just 61 years old. The country leads in the world in maternal mortality ratio, ranking in 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births — nearly 500 more than the next nation and three times higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of clean water and well equipped sanitary equipment has unsurprisingly come with generally high maternal health risks. Maternal health in Sierra Leone is improving (albeit with further necessary upgrades) despite its numerous impediments.

Sierra Leone’s Economic and Political State

In 2010, the government in Sierra Leone announced an ambitious program — the Free Health Care Initiative — to provide free care in public facilities for pregnant and lactating women and young children. Still, mothers felt care to be inadequate as little transportation assistance, sociocultural barriers and poor quality still remain difficult years later.

In addition, a devastating 2014 outbreak of Ebola further stunted improvements in health conditions in the nation. In fact, according to a 2015 paper, the reduced number of health personal after the epidemic may have forced maternal mortality to increase by 74 percent in Sierra Leone. But workers are on the ground making progress — individuals from as close as neighboring communities, to as far as a dozen time zones away in Asia, are dedicated to creating improvements in maternal health in Sierra Leone.

Impact of Aid Organizations

A UNICEF partner, Sierra Leone Social Aid Volunteers, built modern toilets, a laundromat, incinerator, placenta pit, water well and water supply system in the nation. And that’s not all — UNICEF and other humanitarian aid organizations have offered aid to over 150 facilities across Sierra Leone.

Fatmata Conteh, midwife at the Konta Line Community Health Center, stated that as a result of these efforts, people in Sierra Leone “can easily clean the health facility and wash all our equipment here. Mothers have access to convenient toilets and water in the bathroom to have a bath after delivery.”

The health center where Conteh is employed provides service to over 7,000 individuals across nearly 30 cities in which nearly one half of patients are under the age of five. In December 2015, UNICEF, funded by the European Union, oversaw 16 separate construction and rehabilitation projects started across the country. All theses projects aimed to improve basic health infrastructure, including maternal facilities.

In November 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a new five-year strategy for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health in Sierra Leone. The strategy highlights several focus areas, including emergency obstetric and neonatal care, management of newborn and childhood illnesses and prevention of teenage pregnancy. This strategy will hope to launch off the recent progress of late — the females’ increased attendance (at least four checkups) during pregnancy and malaria treatment.

“WHO is proud to have supported the country in developing this strategy together with our partners, but we are also aware that this is just the beginning,” said Alexander Chimbaru, Officer-in-Charge of WHO Sierra Leone.

External Influencers

China has also been an influential partner in the region through its support of aid programs in Sierra Leone. In early June, a group of Chinese health workers touched down in Freetown and joined other medical technicians at the Jui China Sierra Leone Friendship hospital. The hospital provides medical care to children, pregnant and mothers free of charge.

To accompany such dutiful care, the first lady of Sierra Leone, Fatima Bio, officially launched the China-Sierra Leone Maternal and Child Health Care Innovation Project. At a launch event, Bio highlighted the importance of a strong education system and health network, as well as the negative effects of teenage pregnancy.

Closer to home, individuals make substantial sacrifices to assist mothers in giving healthy births. Health Poverty Action has featured Mary Turoy, a successful Maternal Health Promoter in the Kamalo village in the Northern Bombali District of the country. To mitigate the difficulties women face in just traveling to medical centers, Turoy and others in her community offer housing, pregnancy information and much-needed advice.

Maternal Health in Sierra Leone

One of the Sustainable Development Goal health targets is to decrease from 216 maternal deaths per 100,000 in 2015, to less than 70 maternal deaths. The United Nations (U.N.) holds that maternal deaths can be largely prevented if programs bolster the level of care during delivery. And improvements around the globe are, in fact, being made — infectious diseases and adolescent childbearing are down worldwide.

However, conditions remain the most concerning in sub-Saharan Africa. Improvements in maternal health in Sierra Leone are happening, but change is still necessary. Healthcare and maternal conditions in this coastal, west African nation are still an area of concern that could do with continued care today and in the future.

– Isabel Bysiewicz
Photo: Flickr

PianoterraIn Italian, “pianoterra” translates to “ground floor.” Pianoterra is also an organization based in Italy that is working to keep refugee mothers and children safe.

The Mission of Pianoterra

Pianoterra was founded by Alessia Bulgari, Flaminia Trapani and Ciro Nesci. According to the group’s website, “[the founders’] stories are intertwined by personal ties: Alessia and Flaminia are cousins, Flaminia and Ciro are husband and wife.”

The organization was founded in 2008 with the main goal of helping immigrant women get the necessary things to be able to prosper in Italy. When the organization began, 58 percent of the women seeking help from the organization was Italian while the other 50 percent was foreign. Today, 98 percent are foreign women.

Pianoterra’s Past Initiatives

Pianoterra has led several initiatives to improve the lives of refugee women and children. Two of these important projects include “Right to Feed – Support of Breastfeeding” and “From Mom to Mom.”

The project “Right to Feed – Support of Breastfeeding” began in January 2009. The project was aimed at mothers who were unable to breastfeed and did not have a sufficient amount of money to be able to feed their children. Pianoterra worked to “distribute free formula milk, according to pediatric prescriptions, and other basic necessities.”

With the “From Mom to Mom” initiative, Pianoterra helped mothers by collecting and distributing second-hand items for children. By collecting second-hand articles and connecting the women who donate with the women in need, mothers are “directly linked to a solidarity network of other women and mothers willing to support,” according to the organization’s website.

The Immigration Situation in Italy

Currently, immigration to Italy is occurring in large numbers. In 2018 alone, approximately 33,000 refugees have fled to Italy. However, the nation’s new interior minister has stated that “the country will no longer be ‘Europe’s refugee camp,’” according to TeleSur.

With the new government leaders in Italy, many refugees cannot count on staying in Italy. TeleSur reports that Italy’s “right-wing League stated that the vast majority of migrants in Italy have no right to refugee status, Italy cannot help them and by accepting low pay they worsen the working conditions of Italians.”

Although the Italian government is changing, there are still organizations working to help women and refugees prosper in the country. Pianoterra will continue to assist mothers in caring for their children and bettering their futures.

– Valeria Flores
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Eritrea
The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Five, improving maternal health, has two components: First, reduce maternal mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and second, achieve universal access to reproductive healthcare by 2015.  Eritrea is one of the few countries in which these goals were fully achieved.

The maternal mortality ratio—which the U.N. defines as “the ratio of the number of maternal deaths to the number of pregnancies,” calling it “an indicator of the risk of dying that a woman faces for each pregnancy she undergoes”— was 1,700 deaths per 100,000 births in Eritrea in 1990. The goal for 2015 was to cut that number to 425 deaths per 100,000 births. In 2013, Eritrea not only met but surpassed this goal, with a maternal mortality rate of just 380 deaths per 100,000 births.

Eritrea saw almost as much success in its efforts to achieve universal access to reproductive healthcare. In 1991, just 19 percent of women had any prenatal care. By 2013, that number had risen to 93 percent, a nearly fivefold increase.

What Has Worked

From 1990 to 2015, maternal mortality declined 45 percent globally and 49 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although this is a marked improvement, it is still considerably less than the MDG goal of a two-thirds decrease. As such, many are wondering what contributed to Eritrea’s huge successes.

Since the establishment of the MDGs, the government of Eritrea has been committed to engaging all people with its new development programs. It strove (and continues to strive) to build a national healthcare system that offers universal coverage that truly does reach everyone, no matter how poor or remote.

Efforts by the government, the U.N. and NGOs working to improve maternal health in Eritrea have reflected this emphasis on the universal and the importance of reaching all Eritrean women. Clinics that are mobile and transitory pop up in a community temporarily, and, after a period of time, move on to the next town. This allows more women to receive healthcare without necessitating more resources or medical personnel.

Empowering Women

Likewise, there has been a strong focus on improving gender equality in Eritrea. The government has outlawed both child marriage and female genital mutilation and is continually working to promote gender equality in education and in the labor force. Today, it is estimated that women in Eritrea make up between 35 and 45 percent of the workforce. This means that women are more visible, more engaged in society politically and socially and better able to advocate for their rights.

Despite Eritrea’s considerable successes, challenges remain for the East African nation. Eritrea has a long history of violence. After 30 years of brutal civil war, it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Conflict with Ethiopia resumed between 1998 and 2000 and, even during times of peace, Eritreans live until a strict authoritarian government. Continued improvements in maternal health in Eritrea will be predicated upon future peace and stability in the region.

The Future of Maternal Health in Eritrea

Access continues to be the main challenge. Women who lack money often struggle to find affordable healthcare. Despite the efforts of mobile health clinics, antiquated infrastructure, old roads and limited public transportation opportunities mean that traveling to a clinic still proves difficult for many women.

Furthermore, although 93 percent of women received at least some prenatal care in 2013, only 55 percent of women had a trained medical professional at their child’s birth. That is a huge improvement from 1991, when only 6 percent of babies were born under the care of a medical professional, but room for improvement remains.

Eritrea’s success in reaching and surpassing MDG Five ought to be applauded. Other countries should follow its example and commit to focusing on universal access to maternal and prenatal care. Despite considerable success regarding lowering the maternal mortality rate and achieving near-universal access to reproductive healthcare, Eritrea should continue to strive to increase the accessibility of healthcare. Eritrea, and the global community supporting women’s health and equity there, can continue to improve the availability of and access to affordable maternal and prenatal healthcare.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr