Saturday, July 14, 2012

Maternal Health Care?

Stephen Harper and the Canadian government have been praised for improving the health of women and children in the developing world. They did this without plunging into the murky waters of 'family planning' which so often means abortion. Harper explained that many of the countries where they directed help have laws against abortion or cultures which do not accept abortion or methods of family planning. Melinda Gates, who in the past has funded family planning and abortion programs in developing countries, this time has worked with the Harper government. Much praise has been directed to both Harper and the Canadian government for this kind of positive help and so many appreciate that abortion was not a part of the plan.
What kind of medical care is needed for mothers and children in developing countries? I worked in the medical field in Asia for fourteen years. Although I was not a midwife or a physican, I know firsthand that there are many ways to improve maternal and child health without providing abortions. Improved nutrition and access to trained medical professionals for prenatal care, delivery and postnatal care should be the primary foci.
Often the cause of a problem in an obstetric unit is post-partum haemmorhage (excessive bleeding after delivery of the baby). Here I was more involved. As a medical laboratory techonologist I had to find whole blood and crossmatch it with the patient so we could give her a transfusion. We usually had to find relatives of the same blood group to donate blood. Often the blood is needed urgently so if a mother delivers her baby in a remote area where these services are not available, the mother dies. We have to ask the question,'Is safe blood and the means to get it to the patient quickly available?'
Pre-natal (or in the UK antenatal) care is a vital part of maternal and child healthcare. Expectant mothers need food which provides all the vitamins and minerals necessary for formation of a child. The baby will take necessary vitamins from the mother and leave her depleted if she does not have enough for both. Foods rich in protein (e.g. meat and fish) are often too expensive or not available for everyone. Of course, calcium for strong bones, iron for healthy blood - these and lesser known minerals are also important. In developing countries it is necessities like these that need to be provided for expectant mothers.
Reports from Chile by epidemiologist, Dr. Elard Koch, claim that accessibility to professional birth attendants in a hospital setting is primarily responsible for a decrease in that country's maternal mortality rates:
                           1960   275 maternal deaths in 100,000 live births
                           1999     23 maternal deaths in 100,000 live births
                           2000     18.7 maternal deaths in 100,000 live births
In South America, Chile has the lowest rate of maternal mortality and yet Chile's laws do not allow legal abortion!

Guyana, on the other hand, has allowed abortion since the 1990s and has the highest maternal mortality on the South American continent. In 1999 the maternal mortality was 110/100,000. Compare that with 23/100,000 in Chile in the same year. (See for stats)

Cultural Aspects
Apart from the health care aspect - why do Western women want to impose their ideas about abortion on those women in Asia and Africa - many whose religion and traditional cultures teach that children should be welcomed?  In many countries having children means that there will be people around to look after you when you are old. Yes, these families cannot have fancy houses or live lavishly but they believe that children are irreplaceable treasures.

Children's Health
I have spoken about maternal health and abortion and have not mentioned children. Obviously abortion is not very healthy for children!
Children who survive birth need to be protected from the diseases around them: mosquito nets so they don't get malaria, electrolyte packets to prevent serious dehydration when they have diarrhoea, nutritious foods so they do not become anaemic and vaccination to prevent diseases like measles and polio. There are lots of things to spend money on without spending it on provision of abortion facilities or contraceptives.
Hopefully people will realize that abortion is not the answer to maternal and child healthcare - in fact, it is not healthcare at all but the very opposite.

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