Advent 2010: Joy to the world
Christmas is the celebration of a birth. Caritas believes the day a new baby is born should always be a day of great joy. But the opposite is often true. A mother dies in pregnancy or childbirth every minute.
Babies rest safely in the arms of religious sisters from the Mudzipeda centre in Congo (DRC). These babies have been separated from their parents or their parents have been killed in war. Trócaire supports the sisters in caring for the children until they can be reunited with their parents.
“I was afraid from the beginning, as this was my first pregnancy,” says Ayesha, an Iraqi mother who delivered her baby boy safely earlier this year in Baghdad. She was only 17, which meant the risks to herself and her baby were heightened. She also suffered from asthma.
Caritas Iraq runs free clinics providing care for women before and after their babies are born. “But Caritas not only gave me medical support, but also education and advice,” she said.
The Catholic Church is one of the largest maternal health and early childhood service providers in Papua New Guinea (PNG), particularly in regions where health services are otherwise non-existent.
Clare lives in the remote Southern Highlands of PNG: “I have been working the past three years at Det Health Centre. The maternity services are free here. Many of the mothers are local, but sometimes we get pregnant women travelling on the highway coming in to deliver with us.”
Caritas Australia is strengthening the Catholic and government health systems in two provinces, including staffing and upgrading the maternity ward at Det in the Diocese of Mendi, where approximately 50 pregnant women visit each month (The programme is partly funded by the Australian government).
It is a scandal that in poor countries, the day a child is born is all too often the day its mother dies. More than half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year – 99 percent of them in the developing world.
“Before Caritas, no one told us that we need to take nutritious foods during pregnancy and after the birth of the baby,” said Suma Begum, 30, a housewife in Bangladesh. “Elderly women told us not to eat more otherwise the baby would cause problems during birth. Now Caritas has advised us to take foods that produce enough milk for the baby,” Begum explained.
Caritas Bangladesh introduced the Save Motherhood Project (SMP) project in 1999.The programme has now trained 600 village women who in turn teach other women, said SMP coordinator, Sister Julienne Hayes-Smith from the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary.
South Sudan is the worse place in the world to give birth. Rates of pregnancy-related deaths are over 2000 per 100,000 births, nearly four times greater than the regional average.
A lack of trained midwives, health facilities and medical advice coupled with high rates of early marriage and pregnancy is responsible for the large number of deaths.
A quarter of the deaths are believed to be as a result haemorrhaging. A normal blood banking system in South Sudan would go a long way solving the problem if it existed.
Caritas supports clinics in South Sudan that provide care to mothers before and after giving birth. But a more systematic approach is needed to ensuring mothers giving birth in Sudan, Iraq, Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea receive the same treatment as ones in Europe and North America.
Caritas says rich countries need to meet the long-promised target of giving 0.7 percent of national income in development aid. Africa needs $32billion (£21bn) over the next five years to reduce maternal deaths and deaths of children. The money could save 11 million African women and children by 2015.
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