Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Emergency Evacuation

Sometimes fate intervenes in miraculous ways. In late July the COPHAD project received a distinguished visitor - US Deputy Chief of Mission in Rwanda, Anne Casper. While her visit started much like any other, on this day, Anne and her husband Carl (see photo above) were to become bonded to the village in ways I am sure they did not expect. As they descended the hills of the village, word reached our visitors that a young woman was experiencing distress during labor. Quick to react, Anne, Carl, Karl, and Eddy rushed to investigate. Anne and Carl were instrumental, indeed responsible, for the safe transport of the mother to a local health center, and eventually hospital, where she received the Cesarean section necessary to save both their lives. The couple offered not only their bare strength (Carl!) and an embassy vehicle to carry the mother quickly and safely, but also provided financial support and influence necessary to secure a bed in the hospital for mother and child. The effect of this relatively unplanned visit was to transform the lives of mother, child, family, and by extension, community. The photo of the healthy mother and baby below is evidence enough.

We were pleased to hear that Anne and Carl's contributions were officially recognized back in the United States. On August 7, Senator Isakson of Georgia commended the couple for their role in ensuring the health and safety of mother and child. The Senator expressed pride and gratitude for "Americans like you who are dedicated to your profession and the principals of our American overseas mission -- to help others in need".

Each day this work presents new challenges...let's take a moment to soak up its rewards.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Challenges to Maternal and Infant Health

Maternal and child health has been a strong focus of COPHAD since the onset of our efforts. Encouraging good birthing practices, promoting antenatal care, and fostering safe motherhood are all part of our strategy to decrease maternal and infant mortality and enable healthy childhoods.

In recent weeks, we witnessed firsthand the many barriers to healthy delivery still faced by women in Bwiza. On separate occasions, three women went into labor. Our team was present when the first of these women delivered. What we witnessed was both tragic and telling. After a prolonged labor, the mother began to deliver in a banana grove below the village. Without medical care, the mother had spent several days in distress and eventually delivered a stillborn baby in an unsanitary and unforgiving environment. Despite our efforts at resuscitation, the child could not be saved.

Yet, on two other occasions, we are happy to report the safe delivery of two babies and the continued health of two happy mothers. What was the difference you may ask? These two women gave birth at hospitals. These deliveries were made possible through the coordinated efforts and resources (transportation, money, etc.) of the community, Pygmy Survival Alliance, and others (including the use of a US embassy vehicle, which is a whole other story). Lack of transportation and financial means are just two of the barriers the individuals in this community face when seeking care.

Imagine you are a mother who has gone into labor and begun to feel distress. Your next step is to walk several hours down a bumpy road to the health center, where you will most likely be referred to a hospital even further away. If you are lucky enough to get transport to the hospital, you will then be told to pay six days stay upfront, all the while wondering how you are going to feed yourself and your family during your stay. Add to these challenges the deep-rooted discrimination and stigmatization you as a member of the Community of Potters have previously experienced at these locations. You can begin to see just how frightening and challenging it must be to ensure your child is born in a hospital.

We know that innovative, sustainable solutions must be found to ensure that once a woman is in labor, it will be possible for her to reach a health center or hospital and receive proper care. Encouraging safe birthing practices will not be enough. Interventions must be created that reflect the complex nature of the existing barriers to care.