SEATTLE — More than 800 women die every day from preventable pregnancy-related causes, and 99 percent of those deaths occur in developing countries. Childbirth and pregnancy-related problems are the main cause of death among women in Myanmar, mostly because women are not able to reach emergency care in time. Myanmar has one of the highest maternal death rates in its region, with 282 deaths per 100,000 births, which is about eight deaths each day. Proper medical care before, during and after childbirth is crucial to women’s health in developing countries. That’s why Dashi Hkwan Nu opened the Central Midwifery School in Yangon to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Myanmar.
Two-hundred students attend the midwifery school before going to clinics in rural areas to improve infrastructure and medical facilities. Nu, head of the school, says “the role of midwives is very important because two-thirds of our country is in rural areas. [Midwives] are not only working on healthcare, but also documenting and compiling data for the country.”
Myanmar’s healthcare system is crumbling after decades of military rule. The military junta took funds from public services like healthcare to fund the army. But Myanmar just elected its first civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who wants to reform health and education and provide public transportation to the people of Yangon. This series of social reforms will allow women to get the healthcare they need and encourage others around the world to improve women’s health in developing countries.
Nu and her students have experienced some resistance because of the long-standing tradition of birth attendants in Myanmar, but birth attendants are not trained in emergency situations, so the country is in dire need of trained professionals.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is supporting the Central Midwifery School. If Myanmar has any hope of reaching middle-income status, maternal mortality needs to come down.
Myanmar is not the only example of prioritized women’s health in developing countries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, patients have to travel long distances to health centers and often arrive too late, which has resulted in a high infant mortality rate. In fact, the DRC has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, with 104 deaths per 1,000 live births.
The Athenee clinic in Kongo Central, Empunda has not recorded a child death since opening in 2013, however. Before the opening of the Athenee clinic, mothers with children and pregnant women had to travel more than 12 miles on foot to a substandard facility in Mbanza-Ngungu. Empunda’s new clinic is 1.9 miles away from Athenee’s center and has newly trained community health workers, most of whom are women.
The clinic is the product of a partnership between the Congolese government and UNICEF in efforts to build more hospitals, train more health professionals and lower the cost of healthcare. According to News Trust, “the project aims to offer all pregnant women and mothers of children under the age of five with free health kits containing mosquito nets and basic medication to treat children for diarrhea, fever and malnutrition.” UNICEF is also training community health workers to offer kit education to mothers. The kits have vouchers that allow treatment for $1, less than a quarter of the usual cost.
UNICEF successfully implemented the project in Mbanza-Ngungu and aims to reach around two million children by the end of 2017. With the continued implementation of programs like this, women’s health in development countries can continue to improve, giving millions more a chance at prosperity.
– Rachel Cooper