A Matter of Life and Death
By Jamie Malewska, Marketing Coordinator
There are few moments in life as precious, and as dangerous as giving birth. Many of us have either experienced or know someone who has experienced birth-related complications and know how scary and even life-threatening this can be.
When looking at neonatal mortality rates (death within the first 28 days of life) around the world, it’s obvious that quality healthcare is the difference between life and death for millions of infants. Developing countries with large rural populations, high poverty levels, and frequent conflict often have higher neonatal mortality rates when compared with the rest of the world. Many of these infant deaths are completely preventable. With accessible healthcare, knowledge of safe birthing practices and newborn care, many more babies and mothers in these areas would survive.
According to the World Health Organization, almost half of all children who die before turning 5 years old die during the neonatal period. Prematurity, birth-related complications, asphyxia (lack of oxygen), and infection are the most common reasons for neonatal deaths. With proper care, these conditions are highly treatable. However, in many parts of the world, adequate healthcare is difficult if not impossible to access. This is where BirthAid comes in. Currently, BirthAid is operating in Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and is in the beginning stages of starting in Angola.
While our other programs focus on both babies and toddlers (0-5 years old), BirthAid is unique as its main focus is on birth and newborns, especially in the first month of life. BirthAid provides basic medical supplies and education to communities in rural areas and high-conflict zones, where pregnant women and newborns would otherwise not have access to healthcare.
On a Saving Moses trip to sub-Saharan Africa, we met Matthias and Eveline who had lost their newborn. Their son was born prematurely. Just a few days after his birth, they noticed he was having trouble breathing. They rushed him to the local clinic. The staff there were unable to help him, so they referred him to the city hospital. Tragically, he did not survive the trip.
Unfortunately, Eveline and Matthias’s story is all too common. In rural communities, local clinics are oftentimes ill-equipped and unprepared for pregnancy, birth, and newborn complications. Because of this, they refer families to city hospitals that can be hours away. Many pregnant mothers and newborns die in transit. Not having access to clean water can be another risk factor for rural births and newborn care. Without proper sanitation, infection becomes a major concern. Something as simple as having a clean instrument to cut the umbilical cord can be the difference between life and death. Having a baby prematurely, infections, and other common birth-related complications are much more likely to result in death for infants without access to quality healthcare.
Conflict also goes hand in hand with high rates of neonatal mortality. There are few things as stressful as living in high-conflict areas, and stress can cause pregnant women to give birth prematurely. Unfortunately, prematurity often comes with health complications that need medical care. In times of active conflict, care can be difficult to find because hospitals are targets of violence. This causes people to be too afraid to go to the hospital, and forces medical staff to flee the area. In these situations, premature babies, or those with other health issues who desperately need medical attention cannot access it.
BirthAid helps to prevent unnecessary deaths by training local clinic staff and community members on safe birthing practices and life-saving skills for pregnant women and newborns. Without access to healthcare, one of the best ways to ensure a safe birth is for someone at the birth to know these skills. For example, a participant in Afghanistan was at his daughter’s birth when her baby was born not breathing. From our training, he knew to check her airways for blockages, flick her feet to stimulate circulation, and pat her on the back. After taking these measures, his granddaughter began to breathe! This training also includes learning about the danger signs to look for during pregnancy so that women can seek care before the situation becomes an emergency.
Basic medical equipment like a sanitary tool to cut the umbilical cord, clean towels, and other supplies to help prevent infection are also provided through BirthAid. These simple measures truly save babies and mothers every day. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, BirthAid supports an antenatal clinic in a rural and conflict-ridden area. Women with high-risk pregnancies can be referred there to stay and receive care while waiting to give birth. This clinic is prepared to provide c-sections along with other emergency procedures. Around the world, BirthAid is helping these newborns survive past the most vulnerable stage of life, giving them the opportunity for a bright future.
We are so excited to continue expanding BirthAid! As we work on getting this program up and running in Angola, we are also looking ahead to other countries and areas that need this kind of support. We are so grateful to our donors who help us save newborns and their mothers every day through BirthAid.