As seen on the Women’s ENews Website:
By Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
Millennium Development Goal No. 5–improving maternal health–is way off target. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem outlines the dimensions of the problem.
Editor’s Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women’s eNews.
NAIROBI, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS)–I have been aware of the dangers associated with delivering children most of my life and always believed it was part of some “natural risk.” But campaigning on the issue of maternal mortality changed that. It hit me more directly last month, when my younger sister Asmau (better known as Talatua), age 33, died two hours after delivering her second child, a baby boy whom she never held.
Asmau is among the 500,000 women who die each year as the result of childbirth and pregnancy; it’s the No. 1 killer of women of childbearing age in the developing world. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable and their prevention is definitely less costly than death, in both human and material terms, to the families involved and to society in general.
To show you how much surviving pregnancy is a matter of privilege, consider this fact: The risk of a woman dying as the result of pregnancy in a developed country is 1 in 7,300. In Africa, it is 1 in 26.
Yet while statistics can educate and raise awareness, they remain statistics. Until they are humanized, we may not feel their impact directly.
Let me tell you about my sister.
Asmau was far from illiterate. She was a senior science teacher in a secondary school and her husband is a college principal. In income terms, both of them are not the so-called “ordinary” man and woman. Their income could “buy” them better access to health facilities. My sister died in a “private” clinic in Funtua, a small town in Nigeria. The clinic is one of many that have mushroomed in response to the crisis in the public health sector in Africa.
Most of these “private” clinics are owned by doctors and other medical staff working in the public sector. The only dividing line between public and private is the extra money that those who can afford to do so pay, for extra care and time from the overworked public professionals.
Game of Chance
But it is all a game of chance because many of these “private” clinics in Africa do not have requisite facilities and often fall back on the privatized sections of public facilities. So the closer one is to better public hospitals and other medical establishments–such as dedicated gynecological, pediatric and other specialist hospitals like university teaching hospitals–the better one’s chances are of buying off a slice of the public service.
In my sister’s case the main reason she bled to death was because the private clinic did not have competent professionals to attend to her post-natal emergency. For many other women, death could result from being too far from health facilities, lacking appropriate transport in an emergency and inability to obtain adequate and timely professional intervention.
In Africa and Asia, where most people still live in rural areas, the health and lifespan of mothers and other citizens is based on the random selection imposed by our limited facilities. Even in the capital cities, your residential area and financial ability determines your access.
Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, says that in India, the country with the world’s highest number of maternal deaths, “Many prefer to use God’s anger as the reason for death rather than the non-availability or failure of medical care.”
The same is true in Africa. Since God does not protest and has no instant rebuttal department, everything can be blamed on him.
It’s Political Will, Not God’s
But it is not God’s will that children should be brought up without their mothers. It is the way in which we plan our society that leads to women dying like this.
The U.N. Population Fund reported that in 2007 donor spending on reproductive health was $1.28 billion, while $6 billion is needed to combat maternal mortality.
But this is not simply an issue of lack of resources. This is also a matter of unfriendly public priorities.
If the minister of health of a country goes abroad for treatment on the flimsiest of health reasons and the minister of education does not have any of his or her children in the schooling his or her ministry is providing, why should the public trust their services?
It is unacceptable that governments can find money for unjust wars, the private security of the president and his wife, or concubines–not to talk of ministers and other state officials–instead of providing for citizens who badly need services.
It is not possible for the majority of citizens to privatize their way out of public services, whether in health or education. Nor is it possible for aid money to magically solve the problem. The citizens of Africa and Asia must exert pressure on their own governments for public policies that serve them better.
MDG Year 2015 Coming Up
In the year 2000, world leaders from 189 countries, rich and poor, pledged to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight benchmarks to eradicate extreme poverty, improve health, education and the environment, as well as create a global partnership for development by the year 2015. The fifth of these goals is to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters. But this goal has had the least progress and is unlikely to be achieved unless urgent action is taken now.
Jemima A. Dennis-Antwi, a midwife in Ghana who works with the International Confederation of Midwives, notes that women of reproductive age in low-income countries still die from preventable complications.
“This situation must be rejected by stakeholders with an interest in improving maternal health,” she says. “Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries within Asia and Latin America especially must rise up to the occasion and aggressively address the problem through the adoption of culturally sensitive and medically approved approaches. The midwife is pivotal to success.”
As I’ve discussed, adequate health-care infrastructure and personnel are two pressing areas of need. But pregnant women also need secure sources of food, water and sanitation to ensure proper nutrition and hygiene. They need roads and bridges to get to hospitals in time if necessary, and electricity so they can be treated properly when they arrive. They need access to education, which helps women better plan and space their children. They need their governments to curb malaria, a major cause of maternal mortality because pregnancy renders women more vulnerable to the disease. Leaders of poor countries must urgently marshal domestic resources to meet these needs.
Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is deputy director for Africa at the United Nations Millennium Campaign, which supports citizens’ efforts to hold their governments accountable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. He has been engaged with civil society organizations and social movements across Africa and in the diaspora for more than two decades.
What can you do to help these women move forward? Can you research? Can you write letters? Can you provide funds? Do you have skills to offer and can you go? If we are to truly make a difference, we must be prepared to take action. Visit the Women ENews website to find out how you can get involved in this social justice issue.
I found out this week I won the Women’s Forum Award! Wow! It will be presented at the International Women’s Day Luncheon. More information to follow…
Raising Awareness of Women’s Health and Gynaecological Cancers -
Jeannette Preston’s letter reproduced below…
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am privileged to be a Methodist Preacher in the Falmouth Circuit in Cornwall, United Kingdom. 18 months ago I had endometrial cancer, and along with most women with gynaecological cancers, suddenly faced the reality that I might die at age 58. It was a traumatic time, there was much of the Lord’s work to do, my family give me so much joy, and I was not ready.
I returned to my post of Lecturer in Health and Social Care after 6 weeks and had not told anyone that I had cancer. It did not seem important. I just wanted to get on with the work I loved, and not have to think too much about having experienced such trauma.
Following surgery I began to be in touch with women around the world who had gynaecological cancers, and their stories affected me deeply. I was saddened to hear from young women how they were dying due to ignorance of the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers, many of them not having had the smear/pap test. Many were leaving young babies behind.
I read Kath Mazzella’s story and could not cope with the knowledge that she had had to have a radical vulvectomy while still a young woman. This mutilating surgery must be the fear of anyone who knows about cancers. To have your outer genitalia removed is beyond anyone’s ability to understand such awfulness. The daily discomfort, pain, inability to be a loving wife to her husband, plus the fear of the cancer spreading to other areas, is a dreadful burden to bear.
As a young nurse I had watched the operation that she endured and remember being horrified as I watched the patient’s genitalia being removed. It is an image that is unforgettable.
During prayers and times of reflection I came to change my views about keeping quiet about my own experience. I began to talk to those I knew well, and warn them about the signs and symptoms of womb cancer, telling them all to know that the smear test does not show other cancers in the pants area.
The more I spoke, the more I realised how little women know, and I was called to do something about it. I knew that our Father would not want the Rubies of His world being wiped out through ignorance. Proverbs 31.v.10 A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels, the heart of her husband trusts in her… I knew then that I had to make a positive decision to promote awareness and PANTS was born. It is a charitable organisation which I run on my own and my aim is to save lives.
PANTS was chosen as a light hearted name which I hoped would attract the young women, those who are not having their smear tests, or who are not having safe sex and leaving themselves vulnerable to infection by their boyfriends and husbands of the Human Papilloma Virus which is likely to lead to vulval and cervical cancer.
For some reason which I find hard to fathom but which has some basis in Christian doctrines being taught, societies buy in to the misunderstanding that women alone are responsible for the transmission of sexually transmitted disease. It is rarely known that men can get cancer of the genitals and some have their penises removed from HPV viruses, and some will die.
We live in a society where women are blamed for marriage failures, for being unmarried mothers, for being raped, and children blamed for being sexually abused, and for getting the HPV virus and other diseases. No mention is ever made of the responsibility of men. I worked for 17 years as a child protection Social worker and was horrified in court to hear barristers defending abusing families by saying that the children were “ earthy”, some as young as 2 years of age. The implication being that the parents could not be held responsible as the children asked for it.
I believe that we as Methodists have a duty to change the views of society and not to conform to these dreadful notions about women being the cause of so much that happens to them which is inflicted by men.
Girls should be protected against the HPV by vaccination. Believe me no one wants their daughter, granddaughter, sister to die of cervical cancer, it is an awful way to die. In my view, linking arguments against the vaccine with some notion that it will raise promiscuity is such nonsense. It is a safeguard for all women who may eventually marry and not know what kind of sexual history their partners may have. It is the men who may infect the women remember. They should, and hopefully will, all be vaccinated in due course.
I spent a great deal of time with mothers who would not have their children vaccinated against the MMR because of the unfounded fears about it’s safety pronounced by a doctor who has long been discredited. And what happened as a result? Children died of measles. I see a connection between this and the HPV vaccination, except that many, many more of our children will die.
It will not surprise you to know then that I promote Human Rights for all people and included in this promotion is my belief that we are entitled to know about the risk to our bodies from various diseases. I cannot accept that it is not appropriate to talk about women’s diseases when Christ was asked to heal the woman “with issue”, who very probably, in my view, had some type of gynaecological cancer.
I talk about women’s health wherever I go, including the Pulpit, and have been overwhelmed by the support I receive. Life is precious to our Lord and Father, and is precious to me. Women struck down in their 20’s and 30’s face a terrifying future with radio and chemotherapy which has many many side effects which will affect them for the rest of their lives, and of course for many, nothing can be done and children are left without their mothers.
For older women like myself it is hard to face cancer, and to cope with a future of uncertainty, never knowing if it will recur somewhere else. I am committed to helping my sisters, and know that you will be too. I cannot sit by and let them die of ignorance and am inspired by Kath Mazzella who is working tirelessly to raise awareness. She is a phenomenon for good is this world.
In the love of Christ, Jeannette Preston.