President & CEO, IMA World Health
Though Mother's Day is now behind us, some strong thoughts and feelings about motherhood are still lingering in my mind. So, in honor of mothers around the world, I want to express my deep concern for the poor conditions for maternal care around the world, which represents one of the greatest inequities of the 21st century.
As a father in Maryland, I am fortunate that my wife had access to great medical care and the critical health services needed before, during, and after the birth of our two children. This was particularly important as she suffered serious complications, following an emergency cesarean section with our first son. We were grateful for our fortunate circumstances because of the high level of training, expertise and available medicines to manage the situation. In a lower resourced setting, my wife could have easily become a statistic of maternal mortality.
In the developing world—in places like Haiti or South Sudan—even the most basic care and childbirth supplies like sterile gauze or a bar of soap are virtually unobtainable for most. While my wife and I pondered over options for prenatal vitamins, selecting a provider and choosing our pain management method, millions of women will not have the option of receiving care from a trained medical professional throughout pregnancy or delivery.
During a recent trip to Haiti, my staff and I met a woman name Brigitte who faced an impossible choice—she could feed her family that month, or she could buy the basic supplies needed to deliver her baby. (Many Haitian hospitals lack the resources to provide medical supplies to patients, who must provide their own.) These basic supplies would cost her about $35—the equivalent of her family's entire monthly income.
Fortunately, through one of IMA's programs, Brigitte received a Safe Motherhood Kit™, which contains the essential clean and sterile birthing supplies to prevent infection, education on safe birthing practices and a newborn layette. The kit contributes to safe deliveries for women with an uncomplicated delivery. For just $25, supplied by a kind donor, Brigitte's chances of infection and death decreased dramatically—and we later learned that she delivered a healthy baby boy, and that the family is doing well.
Unfortunately, in the time it took to write this, many women (3 women every 5 minutes) in the poorest countries of the world have needlessly died from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth, mostly from severe bleeding or infection. Almost a thousand women will die today. I can't bear the thought that one of these could've been my wife, my mother, my sister, when something could've been done.
These deaths are morally unacceptable, and I believe it's up to each of us to stand up for the human rights of women and call for government leadership to continue support for maternal mortality reduction and global improvements for women's health. This, however is not just a problem for governments to tackle—as individuals, we can speak out for women and support local, national and international organizations that are working every day to reduce unnecessary death and suffering.
In the words of Dr. Mahmoud Fathalla, author of the World Report on Women's Health and chairman of the WHO Advisory Committee on Health Research, "Women are not dying because of disease we cannot treat...they are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving."
In the wake of Mother's Day, please consider the joys and challenges of all mothers around the world and help make motherhood joyful every day of the year.
Rick Santos is the President and CEO of IMA World Health located in New Windsor, MD. Rick is a father of two, an International Aid and Development Worker and a survivor of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake.