By Jayna Garratt – ZONTA Coordinator
In rural Ethiopia a 15 year old girl lays quietly in her tukul, her clothes dampened by the pool of warm urine that has filled her bed. Abandoned by her husband and shunned by her family, she is hopeless and alone, destined to wait her life away in the same tukul that was place to the stillbirth of her first child some months earlier.
This is the tragic story of 50,000-100,000 women worldwide who suffer from obstetric fistulae each year as a result of obstructed labour. And this is not the only problem that stems from the gross lack of health care resources in many villages in developing countries. Every year 290,000 maternal deaths occur worldwide, with common causes including postpartum haemorrhage, infection, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia and unsafe abortion. Diseases that are rife within such developing regions including HIV/AIDS and malaria introduce further complications to an already high risk pregnancy. An overwhelming majority of maternal deaths during childbirth occur in low resource settings and could have been prevented through greater access to resources, including doctors, midwives or trained nurses.
In 2000 the World Health Organisation established the Millennium Development Goals, a set of 10 broad goals, intended to guide national and global development priorities over the next 15 years. The fifth millennium development goal addresses such maternal health issues, focusing on the targets of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters and achieving universal access to reproductive health. While there has been some progress in the area over the past 12 years, more rapid change is required in order to reach these targets within the next two years. Despite the 47% decline in the maternal mortality rate worldwide that has occurred since 1990, there continues to be a massive gap between developed and developing nations, with developing countries experiencing a 15 times greater maternal rate than developed countries. Wealth inequalities and geographical area differences also contribute to disparities in maternal health outcomes within countries. Furthermore, improvements in the availability of antenatal care continue to fail to provide an appropriate standard of health care to 50% of pregnant women.
While greater use of contraception and family planning services and access to appropriately skilled health professionals are key to minimising the risk of maternal mortality, simple interventions, such as improving hygiene practices during delivery and ensuring that basic equipment is available to reduce bleeding can have a significant impact in preventing maternal deaths. When 50 million babies are delivered annually without the assistance of a doctor, midwife or trained nurse, there is an overwhelming need for the widespread use of such practices in villages across the globe. And this is where organisations such as ZONTA come in.
ZONTA Birthing Kits is an international organisation that aims to reduce international maternal and infant mortality, injury and infection through the production of basic birthing kits. Volunteer groups, such as ZONTA Birthing Kits UWA fundraise money to order supplies and engage volunteers in assembling the birthing kits, which are then sent to developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific region. Birthing kits are distributed to hospitals, clinics and Traditional Birthing Attendant training courses in villages where they help to provide a clean and safe environment for birth. While such kits cannot be thought of as a substitute to a properly supervised birth, they provide a good alternative, when the timely provision of appropriate health care resources is not logistically feasible.
Maternal health issues continue to threaten millions of women and infants annually despite progress over the past 20 years, and therefore should be at the forefront of the post-2015 development agenda.
If you would like more information about ZONTA Birthing Kits, email us at [email protected] and we will add you to the mailing list.