Sarah's Insights: Maternal Health

The words “I'm pregnant” have a huge effect on a woman's life. In many cases it is a celebratory event and thoughts of giving birth and caring for a child are met with excitement. This past week I read the story of a Brampton teacher who developed an infection less than a day after giving birth. She passed away a week later. You can read about her story here.

Such a story is relatively rare in North America. 99% percent of maternal deaths occur in developing nations, the majority in Sub-Sarahan Africa. Canada reported 45 maternal deaths among 396,000 in 2013 (0.8%). In comparison, Kenya reported 6300 maternal deaths among 1,549,000 births (11.3%). Sierra Lione was the highest reporting 2400 maternal death among 223,000 births (16.7%).

Those are astounding stats. Those are stats that would see 1 of the 7 women in my book club passing away. More than 1 or 2 women in my family would not make it. We read a lot about the Ebola outbreak, HIV/AIDs and other fatal diseases in developing countries but there is not a lot out there advocating for improvements for safe motherhood. The comment I have read is that maternal death doesn't affect developing nations so doesn't usually get highlighted on a world stage.

We have all heard about the recent Ebola outbreak. Just over 10,000 deaths have occurred. Headlines talked of an epidemic. Millions were donated to help. Billions of dollars were spent trying to contain and stem the spread. An immediate response was needed. And still, 289.000 maternal deaths occurred in 2013 largely unnoticed.

35% of births globally occurred without the assistance of a skilled attendant. 80% of those occur in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Mahmoud Fathalla, past president of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states Mothers are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” He is a pioneer in the field and has produced a very informative film called Why Did Mrs. X Die – it can be seen on YouTube here.

An interesting article popped up on my Facebook feed with this quote, about Ebola, but true of many global health issues:

”If the world truly wanted to address Ebola and its root causes, the focus of the Ebola response should have been on things like training more health professionals, building up health systems and disease-surveillance networks in the country, and working with countries to prioritize health in their national budgets — all efforts that could take decades and wouldn't immediately produce results for bragging rights.

Many of the investments that would most help West Africa deal with diseases like Ebola wouldn't go to health care at all. They'd go to boosting education (the single biggest predictor of health) and literacy, and building infrastructure (so that people can get to hospitals and clinics when they need to).”

Real solutions are complex and will take years to implement. But, if we are all the same like we talked about last week, they are absolutely necessary and worth it.


Below are photos of Helen while she was sharing her birth stories with Krista last year in Kibera slums. She gave birth in her mud walled home. Krista asked if she had a mid wife - she said she yelled in pain and a neighbour heard and came to help. The power was out that day, and so they couldn't find a knife to cut the umbilical cord and so they used sugar cane. Her story is very common among the women there... 


 Sarah lives in Northern Ontario with her family and works at Muskoka Woods Sports Resort. Sarah and her husband have four children, and one grandson. She is an avid reader and learner.  In 2012, Sarah launched JustOne with Krista and they travelled to Kenya, Uganda and South Africa together. Sarah is still involved with JustOne through her weekly blog posts, and is a constant source of educating Krista and others on the world's needs. Sarah has a blog we love to read called "Recipe for Messiness" that is about finding beauty amidst our messy lives. 

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