Category Archives: Women’s Issues

#MakeWomenMatter

#MakeWomenMatter

She would never tell her family. They could never know.

SAMSUNG CSC

I was amazed that the young woman was brave enough to tell her story at all.

With a teary smile she explained that she was telling us because she was just so happy that her life was not over as feared.  She was just so relieved to have found someone to help her.  The week before she had called her friend to say goodbye.

Like many Ethiopian young women in search of a better future, the woman I met had been working as a domestic servant in one of the nearby Arab countries. The home she worked in was abusive, and she was raped.

Wrapped head to toe in her traditional Muslim dress she explained that when she found out that she was pregnant she knew that she would be killed if anyone else discovered the truth.  She could not stay in Bahrain; she could no longer come home.  She would have been blamed for this crime.

Her friend had told her about Marie Stopes in Addis Ababa. I happened to be there with the International Reporting Project Fellowship to report on newborn health the day that she came in.   Sadly many women in similar situations do not know where to turn for help. Over 21 million women in the world will turn to unsafe abortions as a solution each year. 47,000 of those women die as a direct result. Often these are desperate young women or girls who will go to any length, to keep their situation a secret.  That price is too often their life, frequently leaving older children motherless.

Maternal health is intricately intertwined with newborn health, and our visit to the Marie Stopes International site highlighted the importance of family planning in the fight to save women’s lives. The Ethiopian government has been working hard to reduce maternal deaths and the revision of the Ethiopian abortion law in 2005 was a step to save the lives of mothers from unsafe abortions. Before the change 35% of maternal deaths in Ethiopia were attributed to unsafe abortions.  Since the liberal law was put in place to allow women who are health risk, have been raped, are victims of incest, and a couple of other special circumstances to get abortions legally,  maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions in Ethiopia have dropped to 6%. These numbers back up the importance of women having control of their reproductive health.  Being able to make an informed choice and take control of your own reproductive health is a basic human right.

On top of the lives saved when women are in control, according to Marie Stopes International, voluntary family planning is one of the most cost-effective investments a country can make in its future. Every dollar spent on family planning can save governments up to 6 dollars that in turn can be spent on improving health, housing, water, sanitation, and other public services.

MSI_Unsafe_Abortion_Infographic_080714_ARTWORK_CMYK copy

When the UN General Assembly sits down to discuss the 8 millennium development goals this September, special attention needs to be directed towards goal #5.  MDG #5, to reduce maternal mortality, is lagging behind the other Millennium Development Goals, and only a small fraction of United Nations member countries are on track to meet that goal in 2015. Marie Stopes International knows that global maternal health can only improve if we #MakeWomenMatter.

Here are the facts:

  • Every day, 800 women die from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth
  • When a mother dies, the risk of death for her children under the age of five increases by 50%
  • The number one killer of 15-19 year old girls worldwide is pregnancy and childbirth.  Every year, 70,000 young women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth – over 70% of these deaths are preventable
  • This year alone, it is estimated that nearly 22 million unsafe abortions will take place around the World

 

Worldwide, one woman dies every 11 minutes from an unsafe abortion. Yet providing access to reproductive healthcare is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to save women’s lives. If everyone who wanted to use contraception was able to, 79,000 women’s lives and 1.1 million infants’ lives could be saved in the developing world alone. – Marie Stopes International #Make Women Matter

When I think about the woman I met at the Marie Stopes clinic that day in Ethiopia I can still see her beautiful teary smile of relief.  Even in her emotional situation she was full of life and hope for her future, and things could have turned out very differently if she had not been given back her future.

To find out more about the Marie Stopes International Make Women Matter campaign you can follow #makewomenmatter or visit the website.

I traveled to Ethiopia with the International Reporting Project on a New Media Fellowship to report on newborn health.

Health Post At Mosebo Village, Ethiopia

Health Post At Mosebo Village, Ethiopia

Elizabeth Atalay

We had just spent the night at the source of the Blue Nile River. Lake Tana sits in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, and as our caravan of Land Cruisers wove through the countryside from Bahir Dar to Mosebo I took in deep gulping breaths of sweet fresh Ethiopian air. The lush colors of our surroundings looked to me like they had been enhanced in Photoshop in the way that everything seemed to pop.  How could I feel this emotional connection to place that was never mine? A place I had never been?

Though this is my first time in Ethiopia, the verdant landscape brought me back to other rural parts of Africa I’d traveled through in my youth, similar topographies that had stayed with me ever since.  This time I’d returned to the continent as a new media fellow with the International Reporting Project to report on newborn health.  We were heading to one of the villages housing a Health Post which serves the local and surrounding population of approximately 3,500 people.

Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

Mosebo Village is part of Save The Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program, and as such is looked to as a model village in the Ethiopian Government’s plan to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.  Mosebo is a rural agrarian community that produces wheat, teff and corn.  There I met seven-year-old Zina whose mother, Mebrate was about to give birth.  Through our translator Mebrate estimated her age to be around 26, and told us that Zina was her first child.  As we learned from interviewing many mothers along the way, her age estimate was really more of a suggestion, and at times might be a full decade older than the expecting mother’s true age. I suspect this is somewhat the case with Mebrate as well.   She said that for economic reasons she and her husband had waited to have a second child, but again, as we also learned, this might not be the full story. Losing a newborn in the act of childbirth is so common, and almost expected in rural Ethiopia, that it is not spoken of openly.   Almost in the way a western mother might not offer up a miscarriage amongst her healthy born children if asked how many children she has.

When she had Zina, Mebrate had gone to her parent’s home to give birth, as women in Ethiopia often do. It is estimated that 80% of Ethiopian mothers will give birth in their home, often without a trained health care attendant. Towards the end of Mebrate’s first pregnancy she went to live with her parents as her family instructed, until after the baby was born.  In that way her mother could help her deliver, could care for her and the baby, and feed her the traditional porridge after birth. Although there were no complications during her delivery, sadly, many young mothers giving birth at home are not as fortunate. The time period during and around birth are the most vulnerable for the lives of both the mothers and babies. The Saving Newborn Lives Program aims to reduce maternal and newborn mortality beginning with awareness programs and pre-natal care on the local level at Health Posts like the one we visited in Mosebo.

Mosebo Health Post

The Mosebo Health Post and Health Extension Workers

We had met Tirgno and Fasika, the two Health Extension Workers at the Mosebo Health Post earlier that day as they showed us the two room interior, and explained their role in improving maternal and newborn health.  They work to raise awareness in the community about the importance of pre-natal care, and the potential dangers of giving birth at home for both mother and child. Newborn health is interdependent with maternal health, and the most prevalent causes of newborn mortality, infection, Asphyxiation, pre-maturity or low birth weight, and diarrhea can often be avoided with proper care.   These days in Mosebo after receiving pre-natal care at the Health Post women are then referred to the regional Health Center for deliveries.

Zina shyly smiled when we ask her how she felt about having a new sibling, she stood straight and tall listening intently as we asked her mother about the babies’ arrival.  When Mebrate goes into labor this time, with her second child, she will embark on the walk along rural dirt roads for around an hour to the nearest Health Center to give birth.

This story was reported by Elizabeth Atalay from Ethiopia where she traveled as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). This post is a modified version of one first written for World Moms Blog.

#EthiopiaNewborns & Maternova Innovations

#EthiopiaNewborns & Maternova Innovations
7 week old #EthiopianNewborns

7 week old #EthiopianNewborns Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

The first thing I pulled out of the bag was the strip of condoms. As a happily married mother of four I can’t remember the last time I handled a strip of condoms, and I confess that they made me giggle. I was checking out the contents of the Maternova backpack I was bringing to Ethiopia, and was quickly informed that they were not included for that reason.

Upon learning that I would be traveling to Ethiopia as a New Media Fellow with The International Reporting Project to report on newborn health I had immediately reached out to my friends at Maternova. Maternal and Newborn health is what they do, particularly in low-resource settings, and I knew they would have some great insights as to what topics I might see on the trip. Part of our reporting will be from rural villages in Ethiopia where most births take place in the home, without a trained healthcare attendant. Maternova is headquartered in the state of Rhode Island where I live, but provides the leading global on-line resource for Governments, non-profits, and health care providers to access affordable healthcare solutions to save the lives of mothers, and newborns.  I asked founder Meg Wirth to tell me about a few of the Maternova products that I was bringing on the trip, and how they are used to save lives.

Lake Tana source of the Blue Nile, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Lake Tana source of the Blue Nile, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Elizabeth Atalay: The condoms in the bag actually come with instructions on how to save a woman’s life from postpartum hemorrhage with the Condom Balloon Tamponade method.  Can you talk a bit about the evolution of the CBT method?

Meg Wirth:  Well listen, if someone needs a condom you should probably give it to them—because averting a pregnancy, as you know, can save a life too.  But the condom also has another very intriguing use—a brand new condom can be used as a kind of do-it-yourself medical device to stop postpartum hemorrhage.  We sent you with instructions!  Rather than break it down step by step here, suffice it to say that the condom can be attached to a foley catheter and IV, filled with saline or water when inserted in a uterus post childbirth.. the pressure of the condom balloon can stop internal bleeding.

EA: I am also bringing the Maternova solar head lamp created for night birthing scenarios, can you remind me of the story you once told me about observing a night birth when you first introduced me to this product?

MW: Well that story wasn’t mine, but we hear stories every single week about birth occurring in the dark.  While a normal birth may be fine in the dark, a complication or a hemorrhage create a serious problem because no one can manage the complication properly.  A simple solar lamp allows task lighting to manage births but they also light the way for heroic midwives who are so often called out at night to remote places and could use light for their own safety.

EA: It is always been surprising to me that newborns in Sub-Saharan Africa can die from simply preventable causes like hypothermia. Two of the Maternova products I am bringing come in tiny packages, yet can be the difference between life and death of a newborn. Can you talk about the importance of the Sterile Foil Baby Bunting, and the Thermo Spot stickers?

ThermoSpot

MW:  The ThermoSpot is a temperature indicator that, when stuck onto a newborn (in a very specific place) can signal—just with color—whether the infant is too cold.  The face on the round sticker fades from green to black and indicates that the core temperature of the infant is far too low. Remember, the average villager in Ethiopia is not going to have a thermometer at the ready, and this amazing, re-usable, ultra low-cost device is a thermal indicator that can be ‘read’ just with color meaning the mom or father need not be numerate or literate. The mylar bunting is a very lightweight wrap to keep infants warm, particularly during transport or when separated from mothers.  Both of these items are in major trials in Pakistan and Kenya though they are already in use in many settings.

EA: I recently learned that in Ethiopia most rural healthcare clinics do not have pregnancy tests available.  Are women able to keep track of their cycles and pregnancies with the CycleBeads for family planning?

MW:  Yes the CycleBeads can be used by anyone with a regular cycle to predict ovulation times!!!  They are a very rapidly-spreading form of birth control.

Cycle Beads

EA: What are some of the issues of newborn health in Ethiopia that you and the Maternova team are interested in hearing about? What innovations should be keeping an eye out for?

MW:  We are interested in local ‘fixes’ or ideas that nurses and midwives have come up with.  Part of our mission is to spread innovation more rapidly and if we can learn from them and spread the messages quickly we’d be thrilled.  See if they have working blood pressure cuffs in the clinics.  See if they have magnesium sulfate.  What about misoprostol?  How do they stop postpartum hemorrhage?

EA: I will definitely be looking to see what innovative solutions the midwives have developed in their communities and share what I see.  Just a few days into the trip we have already been gaining real insight into the Maternal and Newborn landscape here in Ethiopia.  Despite the lack of resources, there seems to be a real commitment to preventative measures and education so I’m excited to bring the Maternova products to midwives we are meeting with later this week!

MW:  Thank you for your work Elizabeth!!

I am in Ethiopia for two weeks with The  International Reporting project on a New Media Fellowship to report on Newborn Health.

You can follow along at The International Reporting Project #EthiopiaNewborns

It Is Safer To Give Birth In Estonia Or Slovenia Than The United States #SOWM

It Is Safer To Give Birth In Estonia Or Slovenia Than The United States #SOWM

According to the 2014 Mother’s Index Rankings published in the Save The Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Report last week,  you are statistically safer giving birth in Slovenia, (ranked the 17th safest country in which to give birth), or Estonia (ranked the 23rd), than you are in the United States of America (which is way down the list at number 31).  In fact last week at the launch of the State of the World’s Mothers Report at the United Nations in New york City I was shocked to learn that the United States is one of the few countries where the risk to mothers in childbirth has gone up rather than down.

Global Team of 200 Member Harriet Shugarman Exec. Dir. of ClimateMama, and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children pictured here with the author at the State of the World's Mothers Report launch in NYC .

Global Team of 200 Member Harriet Shugarman, Exec. Dir. of ClimateMama, and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children pictured here with the author at the State of the World’s Mothers Report launch in NYC .

The Mothers’ Index is part of the overall annual State of the World’s Mothers Report that Save The Children has produced for the past 15 years. The  five indicators used in the index are the lifetime risk of maternal death, the under 5 year child mortality rate, the expected years of formal schooling, the gross national income per capita, and the participation of women in national government.

Credit:  Save The Children

Credit: Save The Children

To see how other countries rank you can view the entire Mothers’ Index HERE.

So why does the United States perform so poorly on the Mothers’ Index? According to the State of the World’s Mothers report :

Although the U.S. performs quite well on economic and educational status it lags behind all other top ranked countries on maternal health and children’s well-being, and performs quite poorly on political status ( the #of women in government).- Save The Children p. 74 State of the World’s Women Report

 

The lag in the United States is alarming, but this year the report specifically addresses the preventable maternal and child deaths in crisis-affected places.  The 2014 report focuses primarily on saving mothers and children, who tend to be the most vulnerable, in humanitarian crisis.  The launch event last week was co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations. Save The Children responded immediately with aid to the crisis in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, as it has done in crisis areas around the world for over 90 years.   Save The Children provides health care, food, and protection to those most vulnerable in humanitarian crisis, most often the women and children. It is not surprising that all of bottom 10 countries on the Mothers’ Index are areas that have recently been in, or are currently in conflict situations, or experienced natural disaster.  Statistics in the report show that more than half of maternal and child deaths take place in these types of fragile settings.

Cover photo of the Save The Children's State of the World's Mothers Report Photo by Phil Moore

Cover photo of the Save The Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Report Photo by Phil Moore

Looking at trends so far in this century, we see how armed conflict, political instability and natural disasters have played a major role in undermining the well-being of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries. We also see that progress is possible, even in countries suffering from devastating humanitarian crisis.- SOWM

One of the countries I was surprised to hear had made such progress was war-torn Afghanistan, which has moved up the Mothers’ Index list by 32 places. At the UN event Yasmin Haque, Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes for UNICEF noted that the key components for improvement in Afghanistan were the training of mid-wives, putting medical interventions in place for safe birth, educating girls, and immunization campaigns against vaccine preventable diseases.  Proving, as she said, that “the investment of minds and funding works”. She also noted that the recommendations coming from the State of the World’s Mothers Report are pressing.

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children

Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global champion for maternal and child health and she backed this up with the urgency of the Syrian crisis. She described things becoming so dire in the refugee camps bursting at the seams, that food rations from the World Food Program have recently been reduced by 20% per family to accommodate the influx.  Some of the Syrian mothers in these camps who were not breastfeeding their infants but using formula to feed their babies, have turned to sugar-water as a substitute as formula has become more and more scarce, and costly.

So what are the recommendations that this report says need to happen? You can read the detailed recommendations in the full SOWM report, but to give you an idea here are a few bullet points of the overall suggestions:

1. Ensure that even mothers and newborns in crisis areas have access to high quality health care. This includes ensuring at least the basic high-impact public health interventions of clean water, sanitation and vaccines. Increased number of female health care workers, and safe birth during the highest risk times of birth and the first week of life as recommended by the Every Newborn Action Plan.

2. Invest in women and girls and ensure their protection.  One component is that by educating girls and putting an end to child marriage entire communities are positively impacted. Educated girls grow up to better contribute to the economy, tend to have fewer children, and her children have better survival rates than children of uneducated mothers.

3. Build longer term resilience to minimize the damaging effects of crisis on health. Early warning systems need to be put in place. There is a need for community based disaster preparedness, response and contingency planning.  These plans should prioritize infants and children who often suffer the most in the face of disaster.

4. Design emergency interventions with a longer term view and the specific needs of mothers and newborns in mind. Prioritize maternal and newborn survival in crisis settings by ensuring access to safe birthing, medical care, and setting up specific safe spaces for them. Continue vaccines programs even during crisis.

5.Ensure adequate financing, coordination, and research to guarantee the above can be accomplished. This includes donor countries  committing to increased  long-term and reliable aid to fragile areas. Reconciling short-term disaster aid with long-term development financing, addressing gender issues, and proper data reporting.

We have the solutions to many of the issues impacting women and children around the world, stories of progress like Ethiopia and Afghanistan prove that it can be done.  The State of the World’s Mothers Report aims to highlight unmet needs, effective solutions, and recommended policy changes to that end.

global teamI was invited by Save The Children to the State of The World’s Mothers Report at the UN last week in NYC as a member of The Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of members of Mom Bloggers for Social Good that concentrates on issues involving women and girls, children, world hunger and maternal health. Our Motto: Individually we are all powerful. Together we can change the world. We believe in the power of collective action to help others and believe in ourselves to make this world a better place for our children and the world’s children.

 

#GlobalMoms at Moms+SocialGood in NYC

#GlobalMoms at Moms+SocialGood in NYC

Moms+SocialGood

For the second year in a row I told my husband in advance what I wanted for Mother’s Day, it was the same thing I requested last year. My wish was not for a thing, but an impactful experience. My Mother’s Day gift was to help me coordinate, wrangle, and cover the needs of our four kids while I took two days away from home to attend what I consider the ultimate celebration of mothers.  Organizing my four kids crazy schedules for two days without me is a generous gift I assure you, as some of you other moms might understand. It is no small task.  That said, to be present at the Save The Children’s launch event of the State of The Worlds Mothers Report at the UN on one day, attend the second annual Moms+SocialGood conference the next, while spending quality time with my dear childhood friend in between, was the type of gift that fed my soul.

Posing with fellow Global Team of 200 member Harriet Shugarman Executive Director of ClimateMama

Posing with fellow Global Team of 200 member Harriet Shugarman Executive Director of ClimateMama

The Moms+SocialGood event celebrates the power we all have as mothers to change the world, and highlights the amazing actions extraordinary mothers are taking every day to do so.  It is the culminating event of the Global Mom Relay that has run for the past two months, passing the baton between stories and causes shared daily through social media. Johnson & Johnson generously donated $1 per shared post to support the United Nations’ Every Woman Every Child Initiative. These donations will be used to help improve global maternal and child health, and welfare through the Girl Up initiative, Shot@Life campaign or MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action).

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New mom Olivia Wilde, Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson | United Nations Foundation

Held at the Paley Center for Media in New York City the Moms+SocialGood event was hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, BabyCenterTM, The Huffington Post and the 92Y.  The day was filled with celebrities turned activists, like Padma Lakshmi, and new mother Olivia Wilde, and every day women turned heroes like Elizabeth Smart and Hlengiwe Lwandle. Hlengiwe, is a mother living with HIV, who avoided passing the virus on to her baby by taking anti-viral medication during pregnancy. She now mentors other HIV positive mothers with Mothers2Mothers.  All of the speakers and performers of the day use their voices to amplify their message towards meaningful change, and serve as examples of how each of us can make an impact.

Moms+SocialGood  highlights the role of social media, technology and philanthropy as a means for progress.

Padma Lakshmi, Endometriosis Foundation of America Co-Founder Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson | United Nations Foundation

Padma Lakshmi, Endometriosis Foundation of America Co-Founder Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson | United Nations Foundation

One of my favorite moments of the day came at the introduction, when Kathy Kalvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation, and Pat Mitchell President and CEO of The Paley Center for Media took the stage. Pat Mitchell immediately addressed the missing Nigerian school girls. She issued a call to action for social media influencers to keep the focus on the return of those girls, and not to let up until they return safely. Kathy Kalvin also opened by reminding us of the great progress that has been made so far in terms of maternal and child health, but there is much work still to be done.  She reminded us that we have many of the solutions, weather it’s vaccines or bed nets, we know how to solves the problems, we just have to get it done.

Speakers and panelists such as Kathryn Bolles, Director of the Health and Nutrition Global Initiative with Save The Children gave a stirring presentation on the important work they do towards saving moms and kids in crisis.    HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan joined the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Sandra Hassink and Leith Greenslade UN Special Envoy on the MDGs on a panel on investing in mothers and newborns, and improving global health. Amazing panels continued throughout the day and included, moving performances by Saul Paul, and spoken word artist Sarah Kay:

They are all are worth watching, and you can do so via the Livestream videos that were watched globally during the event. Prepare to be inspired.

One of the last speakers of the day was Elizabeth Smart, activist and author who brought the day full circle by offering words of wisdom to the still missing Nigerian schoolgirls. She said that she would give them the same advice her mother gave her when she was rescued from her own abduction experience.

Elizabeth Smart, Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson | United Nations Foundation

Elizabeth Smart, Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson | United Nations Foundation

You can not be devalued by someone else, if you are abused you still have worth. It does not make them less in any way, it can’t destroy them.

Her message to them was hope for their futures.  Her message to society was to shatter that shame in loss of virtue idea that is so destructive. This is a crime that happens everywhere in the world and we should use our voices to make it an ongoing conversation until it ends.

Join the Global Moms Challenge of taking up action, using our voices for positive meaningful impact.

Happy Mothers Day!

Shot@Life Champions w/ President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Sandra Hassink

Shot@Life Champions w/ President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Sandra Hassink