Tag Archives: Maternal Health



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


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. Read the rest of this entry

#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?


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

Samahope Gives Us The Opportunity To Do Something Remarkable

Samahope Gives Us The Opportunity To Do Something Remarkable

samahope open copy

Back in 2006 Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson published an article in Wired Magazine that coined the term  Crowdsourcing by combining the terms crowd and outsourcing to describe a trend on the internet.  Of course crowdsourcing was not a new idea, but this was a new term, and the interment was making it possible to take crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to a whole new level. These days it has become an almost  mainstream launching pad from entrepreneurs to artists to fund projects and collect data through the various sites that have popped up to do so.

Samahope has a different vision for crowdfunding, and has come up with a way to give us each an opportunity to do something remarkable to transform and uplift another person’s life. Read the rest of this entry

Christy Turlington Burns Is My Girl Crush

Christy Turlington Burns Is My Girl Crush

Christy Turlington Burns is my girl crush because today she ran the New York City Marathon for mothers everywhere.

Christy Turlington BurnsIt’s not just because I grew up flipping through the pages she graced in fashion magazines.  Not just because she married Ed Burns, who is the totally hot and  amazingly talented Director & Actor. Or that she perfected her yoga practice, along the way producing a line of conscientiously made yoga gear. It is because she then went on to champion for mothers around the world with Every Mother Counts. After her own frightening experience during childbirth Christy became aware that her scenario could have been fatal, as it is for many women globally without access to the quality healthcare she had been provided. Every year hundreds of thousands of women die during or due to childbirth, mostly from preventable causes.

I have a girl crush on Christy because today she and her Every Mother Counts Team #RunEMC ran in the New York City Marathon to raise money for maternal health with the tag line, “we are running so other mothers don’t have to”.   And I think that is AMAZING. Recently I ran the FEED 10k and barely made it across the finish line, I can’t imagine the strength and dedication it takes to run a marathon!

This photo posted on Facebook the other day stopped me in my tracks.

babies copy


It made me think, this is why I do what I do, and I want to do more.  It made me think about the organizations I know who posted this photo, Maternova and Flight For Every Mother, of  Clean Birth Kits, and of Every Mother Counts, and Christy running the marathon. All for the sake of preventing a mother from losing her life while giving birth to another.

Why do we run?  Every Mother Counts participates in the NYC Marathon annually and other running events throughout the year to raise awareness about the impact distance and lack of transportation have on maternal mortality.  Whether it’s a 5K, 10K, half or full marathon these familiar racing mile-markers represent common distances pregnant and laboring women must travel in many parts of the world to reach basic and emergency healthcare services. Most of the time, they travel these distances on foot.  When roads are un-passable, transportation is unavailable and distances are too far, countless women go without prenatal care or skilled assistance at birth and far too often, the results are dangerous and tragic. Distance is the leading contributor that kills almost 300,000 women per year from pregnancy and childbirth-related conditions.-EMC Website

Here is the exciting thing, even though we didn’t run the marathon today, (I actually just got out of my pajamas), this month by downloading and using my favorite App, Charity Miles we can all participate in team Every Mother Counts. Charity Miles donates 25 cents for every mile we run or walk, so if we each do just one mile a day or a collective 26.2 miles by the end of the month, you will have generated enough funding to provide transportation for a mother in labor or in trouble to the hospital in Uganda. That or you can join the team and/or donate to the Every Mother Counts CrowdRise Page.


Congratulations to the Every Mother Counts Team for running the NYC Marathon while inspiring and helping mothers around the world. I’ll be running my #CharityMiles with you this month.

Sophia Webster On Her Flight For Every Mother

Sophia Webster On Her Flight For Every Mother


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Dr. Sophia Webster

“Writing this in the aeroplane above Côte d’Ivoire and will send when I reach the ground ( Ross has taken over the controls temporarily!!) “- Dr. Sophia Webster

Maternal mortality in many countries in Africa is  unacceptably high. Especially since almost all of these deaths occur in low-resource settings, and most of them could have  been prevented.  As an OB/GYN working in England  Dr. Sophia Webster was appalled by the statistics and lack of access to medical care that many of the communities suffering high maternal mortality rates had. So she decided to do something about it. She determined to fly to 26 countries in Africa to raise awareness about Maternal Health issues, and to deliver medical supplies, and healthcare worker training. When I learned about her plan I felt a thrill. She instantly became my hero, my Amelia Earhart,  her undertaking is something I would dream of doing, and since I’m neither a physician nor pilot, it only ever could be a dream for me.  Sophia Webster on the other hand, being both a Dr. and a pilot, is uniquely positioned to make a real direct impact in these communities. As romantic as my notions of flying across Africa are, my experiences during my overland travel for six months across the continent years ago enlightened me to some of the stark realities Dr. Sophia Webster would be sure to face along the way. ffem copy

My father on the other hand was a physician and a small plane pilot who served as a Flight Surgeon in the Army before I was born. We did not fly often, but I can remember the thrill when as a child my dad let me take  the controls in my hands. It turns out that when you tilt the controls up, it tips the nose of the plane down, so my stint as a pilot was very short-lived and a bit dramatic, but the romance of small planes stayed with me. Intrigue with Flight and travel, was further infused through the books my father had read as an armchair traveler. He never did visit the places he read about, but when I grew up I did, and I knew where the seed for my wanderlust had been planted.

Soaring above Cote d’Ivoire Sophia graciously took time away from saving lives, teaching, flying her plane, and fixing it several times along the way to answer the interview questions that I had sent to her.

 flight map copy

When did you learn to fly?

SW: I started in sept 2009 in Carlisle, UK, when I was posted to a district general hospital in the Lake District. I completed about half of my basic training there, and then transferred to Newcastle when my hospital appointment changed.

At what point did you come up with your idea for this trip, and how long did it take you from concept to reality?

SW: In March 2012 whilst I was hiking with my best friend in California. I guess I’m an ideas person, and had been considering at the back of my mind how to do something unusual that linked all of my skills together for a cause about which I passionately believe.

Had you been to Africa before?

SW: Yes, many times. My first trip to Africa was to Egypt as a medical student in 2001. My first trip to sub-Sahara was to The Gambia in 2006 as a doctor to help a nursing colleague of mine open a village health clinic. In 2007, between my junior and senior Obstetric and Gynecology training, I worked in Cape Town, South Africa to gain practical experience and that was when I first began to appreciate how risky it can be to be pregnant. Since I have been back in the UK I have been part of a clinical teaching faculty and have travelled to many other African countries to teach emergency Obstetric and life saving skills to front line health workers including midwives and doctors.

What has surprised you most along the way?

SW: On the aviation front – the vast difference in airport charges between neighbouring countries and just how difficult some airports are to negotiate as a private pilot. On the medical front – just how enthusiastic the public have been in talking about women’s reproductive health, as demonstrated by the questions and responses to my breakfast radio interview via the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation!

What are you missing having access to from home?

SW: Washing my hair regularly!

What is the greatest urgent need you have come across along the way?

SW: Most hospitals we have visited have not had enough beds for the number of patients needing to be admitted, with 2 patients sharing and sometimes even three.

Maternity Ward

Maternity Ward

Which of the following would you say the majority of problems stem from poor maternal health, poor neonatal health, poor sanitation, lack of equipment or lack of expertise in health workers?

SW: Maternal health – there are so many factors at play. There are usually insufficient front line health workers and equipment deficiencies. Skills training is often infrequent leading to inappropriate and/or slow actions in the case of an emergency.

Neonatal health can reflect baseline maternal health. Monitoring of the fetal heartbeat in labour can be suboptimal because of lack of equipment, too few midwives to perform the auscultation and lack of knowledge about how often it should be done and what is normal/abnormal. Resuscitation of a newborn baby that is not breathing well is another key skill which can be forgotten. Hospitals in sub-Sahara are often unable to look after very premature babies because of resource issues.

Have you met any negative response to what you are trying to do?

SW: Yes – not everyone believes in the ideas of Flight For Every Mother. For example, when we arrived in Dakar our proposed hospital visit was cancelled as our request had come across as not well organised without advanced visits to jointly discuss local need face to face. Some practitioners have voiced concern about the short time that the project is running for and wonder if it will have a sustainable impact. Such concern is usually short-lived when I explain the main goal is to raise awareness, and that we have linked with 7 key charities working within women’s reproductive health who are carrying out well established, continuous projects.

Can you measure positive and sustainable impact due to your visit to a particular area? Is that something that you can see right away or over time with results?

SW: It’s difficult to measure positive and sustainable impact in this, primarily awareness-raising, project. There is an ever-increasing following on Facebook and Twitter and I have done a number of in-country newspaper, TV and radio interviews.

I keep a record of the number of front line health workers that I train in Obstetric emergencies and I am in touch with at least one from each facility to hear subjectively about impact (patient and newborn outcomes) over time.

How may your ideas have changed since the beginning of your trip due to experience along the way?

SW: I have realised that as well as raising awareness both in-country and to the wider international public, clinical teaching and meeting with different government and non-government agencies, the information gathering that I have found myself able to do in terms of the set up of medical facilities, resource and local cultural factors is a major additional benefit of this project. Using this information, I will be able to work with both my postgraduate college, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and other agencies in the future to highlight areas of specific need and target partnerships accordingly.

Is your primary goal awareness or impact, or both in equal measure?

 SW: Both. I am trying to do something unique that encourages people to ask ‘why?’ and then I have the opportunity to create awareness.

What message would you most like to convey to those who are following your trip through social media?

 SW: That all women should have the chance for a safe pregnancy no  matter where they live in the world.

We don’t all have our MD or pilots licence, but  you can still be part of this amazing campaign for maternal health by helping to supply the medical equipment that Dr. Webster will need along the way,  Join in and help out simply by visiting the Catapult crowdfunding page to make a donation. You can follow Flight For Every Mother on Sophie’s Blog, Facebook Page and on  Twitter!