A SHEPHERD SPEAKS

Bishop Fred Henry

October 15, 2012

Every year, it is estimated that 500,000 women die in childbirth and pregnancy in the developing world and nine million children die before their fifth birthday. Many of these deaths could be prevented by ensuring access to public health care and services.

At the 2010 G-8 Summit, Canada and its G-8 partners launched the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health to help developing countries reduce mortality rates through strengthened health systems and enable the delivery of key interventions along the continuum of care from pre-pregnancy to childhood.

Priorities for action include antenatal care, attended childbirth, post-partum care, sexual and reproductive health care and services, including voluntary family planning, health education, treatment and prevention of diseases including infectious diseases, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), immunizations, basic nutrition, and relevant actions in the field of safe drinking water and sanitation.

The Muskoka Initiative will also support improved health information and innovative means of delivering health care and services.

There is much that is good in this initiative. However, International Planned Parenthood Federation – the world's largest abortion provider and promoter – is to receive $6 million through a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) over three years to fund "education programs" in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Sudan and Tanzania.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation defines access to safe abortion as an "intrinsic part of maternal health."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion is not the answer to the appalling state of maternal health in developing countries.

PREVENTABLE DEATHS

It is estimated that at least 85 per cent of maternal deaths could be prevented by access to essential obstetric services (not high tech) during pregnancy and delivery.

Nevertheless, these deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. For every woman who dies in childbirth, another 30 suffer damage from the complications of delivering a baby when the mother's pelvis is too small for normal delivery due to malnutrition or chronic illness.

This results in the horrifying lifelong condition of a ruptured bladder and/or rectum, known as obstetric fistula, which causes shameful and permanent incontinence.

ABANDONED, IN PAIN

Shunned by husbands, families and communities, these women become social pariahs, cast out to wander alone. Fending for themselves, some turn to prostitution for survival. As many as two million young women may be living with the pain and shame of this disability.

This is all the sadder since obstetric fistula can be easily repaired with specialized surgery and nursing care. But there are few trained specialists to provide this service.

MaterCare International (MCI), an international group of Catholic obstetricians and gynaecologists founded in 1995 by Dr Robert Walley, has provided this service as part of a model of maternal care. The model takes into account not only pregnancy and obstetric needs, but the whole physical and social environment of the women.

PROJECT ISIOLO

MCI in partnership with the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo, Kenya, has started Project Isiolo: A Comprehensive Rural Obstetrical Services and Training Program.

Kenya has one of the highest maternal mortality and morbidity rates in Africa. There are virtually no obstetricians, nurses or midwives serving this vast central and northern region of Kenya. The purpose of the project is to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity and construct a maternity hospital in Isiolo.

PHASE ONE COMPLETED

Phase 1 of Project Isiolo at a cost of $1.1 million has now been completed and consists of the following:

  1. Construction of a rural maternity clinic in Merti, Kenya, providing, pre and postnatal care and normal deliveries, staffed by midwives.
  2. Construction of a 20-bed maternity hospital in Isiolo able to provide treatment for all life-threatening complications occurring during pregnancy, labour and delivery and afterwards. It consists of two operating rooms, four delivery rooms, OPD, pharmacy, laboratory, administration, kitchen and laundry.
  3. Construction of four manyattas (maternity waiting homes) for mothers with identified high-risk conditions referred by midwives of trained traditional birth attendants (TBAs) as they near their due date where mothers are taken care of by themselves or by relatives.
  4. Purchase of a fully equipped 4X4 ambulance for emergency obstetrical complications (in use since 2009), two motorcycle ambulances specially designed for travel between the local maternity cases and surrounding villages and equipment for both the hospital and maternity clinic.
  5. Training Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) to recognize and refer early, mothers with potential life threatening complication and to provide when necessary safe, clean, delivery in the village.

DIVERSE DONORS

The cost of Phase 1 was $1.1 million. These funds were provided mainly by the Canadian general public and foundations, the Italian Conference of Bishops, and the states of Guernsey, Channel Island, UK, but also from Australia and the United States.

A special appeal is now being made for Phase 2 – Operating costs which includes salaries for doctors, midwives, administration and support staff and further construction of support buildings for the maternity hospital totally $2,659,578 over five years.

CIDA SAYS NO

It is sadly ironic that Canadian money is given to IPPF for abortion services but MaterCare International, whose mission is precisely to deliver maternal, newborn and child health, through new initiatives of service, training, research, and advocacy, has received no Canadian government funding.

All its submitted proposals were turned down by Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).