Friday, January 29, 2010

Saving Haiti's Mothers

During my days as a freelance editor lately, I've been working with a group of midwives to revise some materials for the American College of Nurse Midwives. The materials are part of a larger series on teaching life-saving skills to address factors that contribute to maternal and neonatal morbitidy and mortality.

The materials I'm working on are used at the local level in developing countries to teach community members to recognize and respond appropriately to signs of complications in women during pregnancy or after childbrith, as well as signs of illness in newborn babies.

I met with the midwives in Tucson at the beginning of the month to review the materials and develop a plan for their revision. While we were there, one of the women told us about an upcoming PBS special on maternal mortaility in Haiti, which is supposed to include video of a session using these materials to teach community members about a baby who has trouble breathing after birth.

I received word from her earlier this week that the program will be airing tonight on PBS. Below is the description of the program from the PBS website. Please check your local listing for air time in your area if you're interested in watching it.

Saving Haiti's Mothers

Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, in addition to leaving lives and institutions in ruin, also exacerbated a much more common and lethal emergency in Haiti: Dying during childbirth. Challenges in transportation, education, and quality health care contribute to Haiti having the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, a national crisis even before the earthquake struck.

While great strides are being made with global health issues like HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality figures worldwide have seen virtually no improvement in 20 years. Worldwide, over 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy.

This week, a NOW team that had been working in Haiti during the earthquake reports on this deadly but correctable trend. They meet members of the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF), which operates a network of health agents in more than 100 villages, engaging in pre-natal visits, education, and emergency ambulance runs for pregnant women.

The United Nations Population Fund, which trains midwives to share life-saving birth techniques, says that with proper funding, public support, and wider application of simple but scarce innovations, such deaths could be reduced by nearly 70 percent.

As humanitarian attention on Haiti slowly fades, the issue of maternity mortality remains as imperative as ever. But with an estimated 63,000 women in Haiti currently pregnant—and a main midwife training school devastated by the earthquake—the mission of keeping mothers alive has never been more daunting.


  1. Oh....That so speaks to my heart! I will look for the show...Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the update....just watched it. Compelling, indeed!


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