I was 13 when I first witnessed the miracle of birth at a women’s and children’s hospital in Pakistan. Ever since I have had a part of my heart reserved for mothers and babies.
The picture of two seeming opposites, strength and fragility, in both mom and baby broke through my insufferable teenage arrogance and I was captivated.
I went on to witness many births – first as a student nurse, then as a maternal-child health nurse, until finally I began having my own babies. I remember vividly the line on the pregnancy test showing up, dark and clear. I remember the first flutter of movement and the excitement I felt early on a spring morning in Chicago. I was barely awake, but the flutter sounded louder than an alarm clock and I woke my husband to share the excitement, to rejoice in the miracle. As a mom there are some things you don’t forget – and those were just two of them.
My babies were born all over the world. Beginning in a birthing room in Chicago; moving on to a hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan; still further to Daytona Beach, Florida; ending in Cairo, Egypt in a hospital on the banks of the Nile where my last two took their first breaths of life, and saw the world for the first time. I was so fortunate. I was so privileged.
And so every year I pay attention to the report released by Save the Children: The State of the World’s Mothers. This report has come out yearly since 2000 and is always released just before western Mother’s Day. It is considered a reliable tool across the world to show where mother’s and children do best and which areas they face hardships, often to the extreme. The report always ends with recommendations, calling on the world to make mothers and children a priority, to make moms and kids healthier worldwide.
“In this report, Save the Children examines the causes of maternal and child deaths in crisis settings, and suggests urgent actions needed to support mothers who are raising the world’s future generations under some of the most difficult and horrific circumstances imaginable.” from the 2014 report.
This year the focus of the report is on mothers in areas of humanitarian crisis. Here are just a couple of the things that stood out to me from the report:
- More than 60 million women and children are in need of humanitarian assistance this year.
- Over half of maternal and child deaths worldwide occur in crisis-affected places yet still the majority of these deaths are preventable.
- Worldwide women and children are 14 times more likely to die in disaster settings than men.
- For every person killed by armed violence, anywhere from 3-15 die indirectly from malnutrition, diseases and medical complications.
- Over three-quarters of the projected 80 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2014 are women and children.
- Areas of most concern include Democratic Republic of th Congo where civil war has caused terrible violence against women and children as well as high rates of disease and death from diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia and general new-born difficulties brought about from too few health workers and pregnancies and births in these difficult situations; Syria where data on how bad things are can’t even be gathered as the countries enters its fourth year of horrific conflict; Philippines where Typhoon Hainan ravaged the country in November affecting infrastructure and health care access.
- The first day of life is the riskiest day of life for the newborn everywhere, but complicating this with all that comes with a fragile situations — lack of medical help, poor sanitation, violence, disease, insufficient water supply, living in close quarters with hundreds of others — makes it even riskier.
So where is the hope?
First off it’s in the mothers themselves, because no matter where you go moms want to keep their babies and children healthy – they will do anything to make life better for their kids. Moms want a better and more secure future for their children. That is a strength. Second – there’s hope in breastfeeding. This, as a natural source of vitamin-filled nutrition, keeps the baby full of nutrients that fight infection and malnutrition. It also works as a way to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging, helping the uterus to return to its normal state pre-pregnancy.
Hear this: When formula is distributed where it shouldn’t be it hurts everyone!
In emergency situations it is near impossible to prepare formula properly. It’s irresponsible to send formula and randomly distribute it thinking you are doing people a service. If it is distributed, it must be done carefully with extra attention given to how to prepare. To quote the report directly:
“In all situations, children who are fed infant formula are more likely to become ill and die than those who are breastfed. In an emergency context such as the Syrian conflict, where the risk of dying is already high for children, breastfeeding saves lives, providing critical protection from infections and death.”
Third – what Save the Children’s report does not highlight is the amazing work going on throughout the world by unacknowledged women’s and children’s hospitals. I know people in Pakistan, Haiti, India that work with no need for recognition, daily doing their part to assist with healthy births, to teach breast-feeding techniques, to vaccinate children. A project in a rural area of Pakistan teaches literacy and hygiene to women and children. Community health workers in many parts of the world take on the role of educating their communities. All is not hopeless.
I’m convinced and the data itself shows that when you invest in women and children you make the entire community healthier and more economically stable. For every dollar spent on key interventions for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, about US$ 20 in benefits could be generated.*
Readers of Communicating Across Boundaries live all over the world. And so I’ll close this by saying wherever you are in the world, work to spread the word that mothers and children matter and are worth investing in. They matter to their families, to their communities, and to society as a whole.
*If you use twitter tweet the report using this tag #SOWMOn my travels I’ve met with mothers recovering from the devastation of ongoing conflict, mothers trying to make a refugee camp feel like home, and mothers who fled from violence with their children on their backs. Despite the horrors of the past, every mother I meet is focused on the future and how to make it brighter for her children. – Jasmine Whitbread CEO of Save the Children International
To download a full copy of the report go here.
*A study by Victoria University in Melbourne in six Asian countries