A few years ago I was honored to speak at Blogher with Merck for Mothers. The panel was about maternal health outcomes globally as well as in the United States. As I have mentioned so many times on this blog, the United States leads the developing world with maternal health deaths. This number is exaccerbated by the sheer number of black women who die from pregnancy and delivery complications.
One of the key points we honed in on during the panel was the importance of women being advocates for themselves with their healthcare providers when they feel something is wrong. But, that is not always easy. Take Serena Williams for example. She basically had to beg doctors and nurses to get a CT scan to see if her lung had blood clots which she routinely got as an athlete. They finally relented and what did they find? Blood clots in her lungs. Serena saved her own life.
Many women, especially black women, are not afforded the opportunity to simply get a doctor or nurse to believe that they do not feel well and oftentimes their lives are hanging in the balance. In fact, NPR and ProPublica gathered over 200 stories from black women who felt that they had been “devalued and disrespected by medical providers” during their pregnancies.
I regularly watch a Youtube channel called R&L Life, a cute family channel out of Florida. The mother, Rachael, recently delivered her son and a few days later she had preeclampsia symptoms with massive swelling and high blood pressure. She and her husband went to her doctor only to discover she could have a seizure at any time because of her high blood pressure. She needed to be rushed to the hospital for oral medication and a magnesium drip.
The United Nations has designated Sierra Leone as the most dangerous place to have a baby. In fact, it has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births. On average, most women have at least six babies in Sierra Leone.
In a previous post I mentioned the Aminata Maternal Foundation that helps pregnant women in Sierra Leone. An Australian organization, it was started by a woman, Aminata Conteh-Biger, who became a sex slave during the Liberian Civil War. Now, she is giving back to expectant mothers after so many years away from her home country.
This video shows the work of the Aminata Maternal Foundation and how it oftentimes becomes difficult for young pregnant girls to receive permission from family and elders to deliver in a hospital or health center. It also shows the frustration of healthcare workers who try to teach entire villages about the importance of proper maternal healthcare.
Women in low-and-middle-income countries need clean birth kits in order to stave off deadly infections in themselves and their newborns. This is the case not only during home births with midwives but also in institutionalized settings.
Zubaida Bai, founder of Ayzh, a social enterprise that creates clean, safe birthing kits for women as well as reproductive, newborn and adolescent kits, discusses how she included women’s voices in the development of clean birthing kits.
I am convinced that in order for maternal health interventions to work anywhere in the world, women must be consulted first as opposed to NGOs and charities developing products for women without their input. Bai expresses this brilliantly in this recent TED talk.