On invitation from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, I attended a Maternal Newborn Child Health (MNCH) Summit in Toronto with a theme, “Save Every Woman, Save Every Child.” I don’t think I have ever seen or met so many national and international leaders at one event in my life.
The approximately 500 attendees were from government, international development agencies like World Renew, and the corporate sector. We heard presentations by special global guests such as the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon; the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete; the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan; the queen of Jordan, Rania Al Abdullah; and the president of the World Bank Group, Dr. Jim Young Kim. I came within arm’s reach of many dignitaries, sat right behind Canada’s minister of international development, Christian Paradis, and two seats away from First Lady Mrs. Laureen Harper.
Why was I invited? The main reason was that World Renew received two contributions from DFATD (formerly CIDA) as part of the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) from 2010 to 2015. One contribution of $694,000 from DFATD funded our MNCH work in Malawi and Bangladesh while another contribution came through a partnership with University of Manitoba for our MNCH work in Kenya. During this second MNCH Summit, we heard about the achievements made so far as well as appeals to do more. One of the significant achievements noted was that we are within arm’s reach of totally eliminating polio as a result of successful vaccination programs around the globe.
"no woman should die while giving life to another"
President Kikwete from Tanzania shared his vision that no woman should die while giving life to another. And Stephen Harper highlighted the tragedy that millions of babies born today die before they are named or their birth is recorded. According to The Lancet (May 2014), 2.9 million newborn babies die each year and about 46% of these on the day of their birth. Each statistic is a story of personal tragedy. I know because one of my Ugandan friends, Joan, lost her first baby to an intestinal obstruction because there were no medical facilities nearby to help her. The baby’s father wasn’t even able to travel home in time to bury his child. If she had delivered her baby in Canada, an easy surgery would have saved the child’s life. The reality is that for millions of babies, survival is not yet within arm’s reach.
As we approach the year 2015 and the conclusion of the United Nations millennium development goals (MDGs), we heard that the goal to decrease maternal mortality by 75% will not likely be met. When I heard that the current maternal death rate during childbirth is 54 out of 1,000 women, my mind flashed back to a conversation with a Ugandan woman named Tabitha. The story she told me brought tears to my eyes. She married in her late teen years because her parents were desperately poor and needed cows and money from her dowry. She soon discovered that her husband was abusive, his temper often flaring into physical and verbal abuse after he drank too much of the local alcoholic brew. When I met Tabitha, she was expecting her fourth child but not sure if she would live. The doctor warned her during her last delivery that her uterus had prolapsed, meaning that she would likely bleed to death if she had any more children. He warned her not to get pregnant again, but her husband refused to accept her condition and did not want to pay for any family planning interventions. Instead, he frequently forced himself on her, and she eventually became pregnant again. She was within arm’s reach of death.
...more needs to be done. There are still 162 million children who were stunted in their growth due to a lack of nutritious food in the first few years of life.
What options did Tabitha have? If she tried to move back to her parent’s home, they would refuse to accept her because they would have to pay back her dowry--a dowry that was already gone. If she tried to leave her husband to find a job, who would hire her? She hadn’t completed grade school, so she had no job skills. Even the local village elders would take husband’s side: he had a right to do with her as he wished. Tabitha’s only hope was the church. World Renew partners with local Christian churches to train them and community health workers in gender justice and complicated health situations like Tabitha’s. Churches are well-placed to address the mindsets, worldviews, and morals that undergird the way people see their health and relationships. Community groups can stand up for vulnerable women and children by mobilizing to raise funds for an emergency cart to take women like Tabitha to a clinic for delivery. When expert spiritual advice and expert medical service are within arm’s reach, lives like Tabitha’s can be saved.
At the MNCH Summit, it was noted that the of the number of children who die within the first five years of life decreased from 12.6 million children a year in 1990 to 6.3 million children a year in 2012. Scaling up nutrition programs and immunization campaigns were the most significant factors that contributed to the progress. World Renew was part of this work through community health programs with our partners. But more needs to be done. There are still 162 million children who were stunted in their growth due to a lack of nutritious food in the first few years of life. Thankfully, World Renew’s work in food security, nutrition, and village savings groups is helping many families prevent stunting. Getting the right food within arm’s reach at the right stage of a child’s development will ensure they not only survive, but thrive.
The biggest highlight of the MNCH Summit was the announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the government of Canada has designated $3.5 billion towards MNCH programs from 2015 to 2020. We are indeed grateful for this commitment and hope it will be used strategically for the greatest impact. In World Renew’s experience, support for frontline community health workers is critical in preventing about 90% of deaths and diseases that people experience in communities where we work with our partners. Training these village health volunteers as well as providing essential equipment to local clinics and hospitals will certainly go a long way toward making the dream of saving every woman and every child come true. By God’s grace and with political will, wise leaders, and your support, we can make this dream a reality. We are within arm’s reach!
PHOTO TOP: Taita Province, Kenya - Eline Mghoi holds her son Joshua (2 1/2) for Drusilla Mwavula, the Community Health worker who visits at least monthly to monitor Joshua's growth, to screen for malnutrition, and to educate in regards to hygiene and family planning. World Renew is implementing a DFATD-funded Maternal and CHild Health program in Kenya with the University of Manitoba.
PHOTO CREDIT: Christina de Jong