Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: poverty and invisible death

Today is Blog Action Day 2008 and bloggers all over the world will be focusing their thoughts on poverty in an attempt to raise awareness.

When I first heard about this action I wasn't going to join in. But I have been following various discussions on the Global Alliance for Nursing and Midwifery, sponsored by the World Health Organization. And an email allerted me to an article that really struck a cord with me.

A mother's final look at life
The article is written by Kevin Sullivan and published in the Washington Post. The article describes the death of an 18 year-old woman in Sierra Leone following the birth of her first child - she died of severe bleeding following the birth.

According to this article, the chances of a woman dying during childbirth in the USA is 1: 4,800. In Ireland it is 1:48,000. In Sierra Leone, it is 1;8.

Worrying about chickens
There's been a lot of publicity and television programs led by people such as Jamie Oliver, urging us to think about the conditions that chickens and animals are kept in. And only the other day I went out and bought free-range eggs, although I did moan about the price. But made me feel very good - I am doing my 'bit'.

But I wonder...if we in the developed world put half as much of our thoughts, energy and resources into saving women's lives as we do into saving chickens, I wonder how much better life would be for impoverished women.

Invisible death
The point Sullivan makes is that money is poured into projects combating malaria, TB and HIV-AIDS. But little attention is paid to maternal death. Sullivan goes on to quote Thoraya A. Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund:

Maternal death is an almost invisible death

So have a read of the article and watch the accompanying video, and consider all the woman who lose their lives in childbirth, so that their deaths do not stay invisible.

Thank you to Patricia Abbott who drew my attention to the article.


Patti said...

Thanks Sarah for bringing this to the attention of a wider audience. If anyone wants to join in the GANM, the link is:

In relation to Sarah's comment about caring for maternal health as much as we do chickens - I can relate. As an educator - I use a similar plea to students and faculty alike. It has nothing to do with chickens - but it has everything to do with thinking about where you devote your energy. So - it goes something like this:

"Please don't assign your students to do a project or a term paper that simply meets an educational objective. How about thinking about something that "gives back" that not only enables the student to show evidence of learning - but also provides value that keeps giving? For example, how many dusty unread manuscripts or term papers do you create? How about taking all of that wonderful knowledge and turning it into a project that someone, particularly in a low resource area, could use? For instance, how about a simple series of educational objects that teaches community health workers about respiratory infection control in Flu prone areas? What can we do to teach where there is no water, no soap, no medical masks? How can I make a reasonably effective respiratory mask out of available materials? Is there an equivalent to soap (and dont suggest alcohol based hand sanitizer because that is not available either)?" This list goes on and on and on. Of course, part of the challenge is in the dissemination - but as we are learning by the work of social & grid networking - information flows to even the most remote corners of the world...........

Anyway, the point is that I could buy free-range eggs or I could pay more attention to women dying for lack of knowledge. I can have my studnets write a term paper that meets the course objectives, and then sits on a shelf collecting dust - or I can figure ways to make the work they put into the paper "come alive" and serve as a tool to help others live healthier lives.

Sarah - you struck one of my chords as well. Thanks for the posting!

Patti Abbott

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you, Patti, for dropping by and all the work you do with GANM.

I do get frustrated because I don't know what I can do, being just one person. But I really like the concept you are talking about, Patti. The other thing is supporting colleagues in developing countries with things like helping them develop curriculum, sharing our education resources, consulting and sharing classes. All these things can be done online. So instead of me going to work as a clinical midwife, I can donate my time in other ways, particularly to support education and professional development.

Just imagine what we could achieve in education if we (every school of midwifery in the world) donated a few hours a year to help with education 'work' or just being available to brainstorm and talk. Or, if we made our materials and resources freely available in an open context. But to do that, we have to get away from our 'ownership' beliefs about knowledge and education.

Carolyn said...

I hear what Patti is saying here there is definitely merit in her argument. I wonder how those, who are culturally removed, can fully appreciate how it is best to help and support learning in this other context. Try as I might I cannot begin to understand what it is like to live in a poor African country and how best I can help. Having learning resources available for others to use is such a wonderful idea. It is for those others to then take these resources and contextualise to there own environment and situation.
I was so heartened recently to read about the Rwandan women MPs who are actively working to improve the situation for chidbearing in their country. It just goes to show what the possibilities are if women are able to take the lead.

Sarah Stewart said...

I have to admit, Carolyn, that is a concern of mine. We (as in the developed world) must be very careful we don't push our values and ways of doing things onto people whose context is very different. As you say, what we can do is support the local people to do what they will with the resources we provide.

Dot said...

I followed the link to the article and found it heart-breaking. But I did notice how the author doesn't take very long to blame a preference for homebirth as one of the factors in the appalling mortality rates in Sierra Leone: 'A lack of education and horrible roads cause women to make unwise health choices, so that they often prefer the dirt floor of home to deliveries at the hands of a qualified stranger at a distant hospital.' I suppose it depends on the home and it depends on the hospital, and I would not advocate unattended birth (having accidentally had one!), but this could be a flashpoint for the application of western values to non-western women. The assumption that poor and uneducated women aren't qualified to make decisions for themselves is a rather dangerous one. From what I've read of the practices in some hospitals in the developing world home might be a more hygienic and certainly less stressful place in many cases. In the context of the article, one can't help suspecting comments on Sierra Leone are here reflecting the author's position in the US's birth wars.

Sarah Stewart said...

Good point, Dot. I hadn't picked up on that, but it does illustrates what I was saying about imposing western values. In some contexts a woman may be safer at home with a traditional birth attendant than in hospital.