Category Archives: Maternal Health

Respectful Maternity Care – A New Charter

I remember when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I was extremely apprehensive about the care I would receive because when I was pregnant with my first daughter I never felt like I was heard by my doctor and nurses and was even ridiculed because I questioned a medication they wanted me to take. By the time I was expecting for the second time I was cautious about where and with whom I would get care. I even walked out of a pre-natal care office because I didn’t like the vibe I was getting from the health workers. The last thing I wanted to deal with were doctors and nurses who really didn’t care about me and showed it. I was concerned only about delivering a healthy baby in a caring environment.

That was eleven years ago in North Carolina. Women the world over have experiences far worse than the doctors who treated me as just another patient. Some women are abused and belittled in public health facilities by nurses. The treatment is so bad that most women opt to deliver their babies in a hut as opposed to having to pay exorbitant costs and endure the degradation from health workers.

The problem may seem isolated, but in truth it is more widespread than we think not only in developing nations, but also here in the United States, especially among the poor.

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood has created a Respectful Maternity Care charter that lays out the tenets of proper care all expectant mothers deserve whether they live in Detroit or Djibouti.

I applaud this effort to ensure women are treated respectfully when they deliver their babies. Now, we just need to spread the word.

How can we empower rural women to end extreme poverty?

Yesterday I joined in on the live Facebook chat with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) where we discussed rural women and their plight to gain equal economic status.

I asked this question to the to UNDP Associate Administrator and Under-Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan

Are there better ways for these women to own more land? I think the global community would really rally behind a movement of women buying more land.

Ms Grynspan answered

Thank you for your questions, many of which address the centrality and importance of women’s access to land, property and assets for their empowerment. Do no douibt education and health are necessary conditions but not enough. UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that if women had equal access to productive resources, they could increase their yields on farms by 20 to 30 percent, raising total output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent. The right of women to own property, including land, is recognized under international human rights law. Yet, in many countries, women’s property rights are limited by social norms and customs, and at times by legislation. UNDP works with programme countries to strengthen women’s legal rights, with a view to making them consistent with international norms and standards. In Liberia, Mozambique, and Uganda, for example, UNDP has supported community land titling initiatives with special measures to protect the land claims of vulnerable populations and women.

[Guest Post] Sarah Omega: A Fistula Survivor

Written By Elizabeth Ralston, The Inspired Philanthropist

The Setting: One by One’s sixth annual fundraiser.

The lights dimmed, the audience soon hushed, and the speaker, a young woman from Kenya, came diffidently to the podium.

Sarah Omega Photo by Louise Lakier 2011

“My name is Sarah Omega, and I am a fistula survivor.”

The details of her life came out as she told her story in a measured, steady fashion. Sarah was raped and impregnated at age 19 by a religious leader from her community. When it came time to give birth, she labored for many hours before being taken to a hospital. Unfortunately, she ended up having a stillborn baby.

Because Sarah had labored for so long, she was left with a fistula, a hole between the vagina and anus, which causes leaking of urine and sometimes feces. What she had really needed was a Cesarean section, which is unavailable to so many women in developing countries.

“I had to live with fistula for twelve years.”

During those twelve years, she struggled with feelings of rage and shame at her plight. At one point, she ended up in a psychiatric ward, severely depressed, for several weeks. Ironically, being in that place saved her.

Staff at the ward told her there was a doctor who repaired fistulas and a month later, she had her fistula repaired.

“I realized I had something to offer back to the society in my capacity as a fistula survivor.”

After Sarah told the amazing and moving story of Sylvia, a Kenyan woman who had lived with fistula for 51 years, there weren’t very many dry eyes in the audience. Check out this seven-minute movie, “We Will Come to You”, about Sarah’s journey to find Sylvia in a remote village to bring her to the hospital for fistula repair surgery. This lovely film gave me goosebumps, especially the part when Sarah says Sylvia had been “expecting” her.

Currently, Sarah is One by One’s Outreach Manager in Kenya, training regional representatives to do outreach in their communities, refer women with fistula for treatment, and provide emotional support for these women when they come home after their surgery.

They’ve had amazing success in the short time since the program began in September 2011:

30 Regional Representatives were trained and have already educated 23,000 Kenyans in just six weeks.

Over 100 women with fistula have been found. You can learn more about Sarah’s story in the following video. Also be sure to learn more about fistula from our partner, Worldwide Fistula Fund.

If Women Ruled the World: How to Create the World We Want to Live In

Life oftentimes is about ideas and actions coming full circle.

In 2004 I wrote a chapter in If Women Ruled the World: How to Create the World We Want to Live In – Stories, Ideas, and Inspiration for Change. My chapter called “Female Genital Mutilation Would Cease to Exist” was in the section entitled “The Compassion to Embrace the World”. In the book I wrote alongside extraordinary women like Arianna Huffington, Gayle Brandeis, and Lisa Loeb. Being a part of this book is one of the highlights of my life. Little did I know then that I would be deeply immersed in global issues affecting women and girls today; but the groundwork was laid, the framework had already been set.

Today it is my intention to help solve some of the issues facing those in poverty in developing nations and even here in the United States. For me the best way I know how to lend my voice is to utilize the platforms I have created over the years to spread the word about the issues that matter to me and I am excited and humbled that over 600 women have joined me in this effort to help spread the word about the issues they care about.

This, no doubt, is a long journey. No problem as big as access to clean water and sanitation, world hunger or global disparities in maternal health will go away in a year or two. These journeys are for those who are steadfast and patient, but persistent and determined. I hope you  join me on this journey.

The Worldwide Fistula Fund Opens Fistula Center in Niger

Our newest partner, the Worldwide Fistula Fund, celebrated the opening of the Danja Fistula Center, its first freestanding fistula center last Saturday, February 11, 2012. A state-of-the-art fistula hospital in Niger, the Danja Fistula Center will provide free obstetric fistula surgeries, prevention programming and aftercare for women afflicted by this condition.

Founded in 1995, the Worldwide Fistula Fund is a not-for-profit public charity that provides medical treatment for women suffering from obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The goal of the Worldwide Fistula Fund was to always create a freestanding fistula center and use it as a model center that can be replicated,” said Bree Neely, Director of Development for the Worldwide Fistula Fund. “If you can do it in a desolate area you have figured out the challenges and then can move on to create more hospitals in more populated areas.”

With the highest rate of maternal mortality Niger is in desperate need of services that will keep mothers and their newborns alive. “We will be doing prevention outreach within a 50 kilometer catch net,” Neely mentioned.  “We will spread the message to women that if the sun rises two times during their labor then they need to go to the hospital. We will be working on this from a prevention angle.”

The Danja Fistula Center will be open year round save for April through May, the hot season. All services are free for the women. In the first year there will be 400 fistula operations and then will gradually ramp up to 1100 surgeries annually.

In addition to performing fistula operations, the Worldwide Fistula Fund will also create curriculum for a social reintegration program. The program will teach women how to read and will also provide micro-financing opportunities.

“Most women who have fistulas have been left by their families,” said Neely. “They are full of shame, embarrassments and have no resources. It’s really our responsibility to not just sew up their fistula, but there is a broader responsibility to see if they are OK and can build a life for themselves.”