Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Post: Preserving maternal health supports child health and family well being in eastern DRC

 I'm very excited to share another thoughtful guest post from the founder and director of Channel Initiative today (another post about their work can be found here).  Their vision is "of a world free from extreme suffering where the most at-risk communities are empowered to create incredible impact in their own countries."  Wow.  Build Hope is their pilot project in eastern DRC.  They "will be working to empower women in one particular village in the Mwenga territory, through improving their ability to access quality health-care.  [They] will work behind Panzi Foundation DRC, in helping them, bring their proven-effective model of holistic women's health care, into this area, much in need of it.  Together with Panzi and a consortium of partners, [they] hope to see women empowered to take places at the forefront of the changing tides for the Democratic Republic of Congo".  The director of Channel Initiative is a friend of mine from the days we lived in DRC.  I'm excited about their work in eastern DRC because the area they are working in is close to the orphanage we support.  An orphanage full of babies and children that are there because their mothers died in birth or from complications after birth.  Their work is very close to my heart because my girls lost their mother in childbirth, like all the other children.  I want to contribute to work that helps keep mothers alive and families intact.  Please consider supporting their work. 

Supporting the work of organizations like Channel Initiative is one critical way of keeping babies out of orphanages.  By keeping mothers alive and healthy, newborns are not left in cribs, but instead are held in their mother's arms. 


When Save the Children released its 2013 State of the World's Mothers report earlier this year, and listed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the world's worst place to give birth and to be a mother, the reaction from the rest of the world was that of initial shock and dismay. People were shocked to see yet another challenge facing women in the DRC, and most disturbed by the fact that so very little seems to have changed, when it comes to the overall state of women in this nation. How could it be, I know many of us felt, that this country could have not just one, but two of possibly the most unfortunate labels that one could come up with, 'the rape capital of the world' and that of 'the world's wost place to be a mom'. Unfortunately, this shock and dismay did not necessarily translate into immediate action, an issue that Save the Children noted in their report as well – that by and large funding and international response were usually disproportionate to the actual need in the DRC and other countries with high maternal and under-five mortality rates. Save the Children also went on to explain that the issue of maternal health was even more important and far reaching than we might think. In fact, based on the data that the NGO collected, maternal mortality seems to affect and/or be affected by economic development, education, child and family health, and even peace.  This is especially true in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where women are both the cornerstones of society as well as perhaps one of the most vulnerable and at-risk demographics – and so, their health, affects not only them, but also their children, their families, their communities, and ultimately their nation's progress toward peace.

Maternal mortality in the DRC, while it has dropped significantly in the last few years, still remains exceptionally high, compared to the rest of the world. A girl or woman in the DRC has a 1 in 30 chance of dying as a result of maternal causes, including childbirth, compared to the United States where the figure hovers around 12 per 100,000 births. 

These devastatingly high maternal mortality rates in the DRC have a lot to do with the availability and quality of health-care afforded to women, particularly in rural areas. In villages across the country, quality, holistic health-care is rarely available. As a result, mamas must give birth in unsanitary surroundings with untrained workers, or they find a way to travel to  and to afford the care at the nearest clinic. There are several long-reaching impacts of maternal mortality, but one thing is extremely evident, the profound impact that the poor health, or death of a mother, has on her children. The presence of a healthy and empowered mother, on a young girl or boy's life is irreplaceable in countries like the DRC.

When a mama is sick in Congo, it is typically the daughters who must pick up the slack, foregoing school to work in the fields, around the house or in the market. These young women are  at even more risk for sexual exploitation, from sugar daddies, at their schools, or even with their neighbors. The poor health or absence of a mama, doesn't only affect girls though, it also affects little boys, in ways that we have yet to fully understand how they might contribute to ongoing conflict and the resistance to peace that seems to prevail in the DRC.

When a mama dies in the DRC, if her children are fortunate, they are taken in by their family members, where, depending on the status of the deceased mama, they are treated either well, or extremely poorly, like house-servants really. They are mistreated, forced to do difficult work and are usually not able to go to school, or take advantage of what little opportunities would be available to them otherwise. Orphancy remains a tremendous social problem in the DRC, with over 5 million orphans nationwide. The link between the orphaning of children and maternal health is extremely clear. When a mother is able to survive childbirth and live out a healthy live, she is able to care for her child. It is that simple really.

So its no stretch of the imagination to say that, in preserving and supporting maternal health, we are supporting child-health, family-well-being and community resilience and development, all with a single blow.

The importance of maternal health cannot be undervalued anymore. It has not been too long ago, recognized as a truly vital issue to national policy agendas, because for so long, it was just a 'girly' thing, a soft issue, not as hard-hitting as perhaps disarmament policy, or military reform. According to the same report though, that labeled the DRC as the worst place on earth to give birth, countries like Finland with low maternal mortality rates, also have low child-mortality rates, higher education life-spans, and are typically far more stable, and economically and socially developed. In comparison, the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates, also had extremely high child mortality rates, and were almost synonymous with countries recently emerging from conflict, or disaster situations.

On a simple humanity level,  it is exceedingly clear, why we must prioritize maternal health, to preserve and support child health and healthy child-development. We do not want any child to grow up without a mother, or to have to experience being an orphan, or to have to assume roles in their families and their communities that they are not yet prepared for. We don't want that – it is its own form of atrocity, a devastating impact of war, conflict, disaster, poverty and instability.

On a national and international structural and policy level however, the importance of maternal health is no less. Maternal health has such a far-reaching impact on entire societies that it is obvious that in order to achieve any social agenda, particularly in the DRC, where the state of women is of especial concern, maternal health and therefore child-health and well-being must be put on the forefront, alongside the other heavy hitters.

1 comment:

Dominique Vidale-Plaza said...

Thanks for posting this Holly. I appreciate you sharing the message! Its so important to protect the mamas of Congo - it burns in my heart when I think of what has been allowed to continue in the DRC for the women there and how that affects their children and the new generation!