Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
October 8, 2001
Plight of Mothers ignored says doctor
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — Political will and compassion are needed to reduce the hundreds of thousands of maternal deaths occurring in the world each year, mainly in underdeveloped countries, says Dr. Robert Walley.
"Those mothers who die are young, are in isolated places and have no voice to speak for themselves," said Walley, the founder of MaterCare International and a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Health.
"No one stands up for them, so you can have 600,000 women dying in pregnancy every year and nothing happens."
Walley, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Memorial University in St. John's, Nfld., spoke Sept. 30 to the Catholic Women's League council of Annunciation of the Lord Parish.
He said that after reviewing current maternal mortality, morbidity and abortion statistics, it isn't difficult to come to the conclusion that the world cares little for mothers and their unborn children.
All that government and international health agencies have to offer women dying during their pregnancies is "reproductive health - which is a euphemism for abortion and contraception." he said.
Walley, who has been active in the pro-life movement since 1969, founded MCI in 1995, inspired by the papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).
The organization is made up of Catholic obstetricians, gynecologists, midwives and general practitioners whose goal is to improve the rates of maternal mortality. Much of its work is in rural areas of the West African country of Ghana.
MaterCare says the risk of a mother dying as a direct cause of pregnancy and labour in Africa is one in every 13, compared to one in every 7,300 in Canada.
But Walley said those deaths only represent the tip of the iceberg. "It is estimated that for every mother that dies, 30 more suffer long term damage to their health, most frequently from obstetric fistulae."
The organization estimates that well over one million mothers suffer from the condition, even though surgery to repair obstetric fistula is relatively simple and inexpensive.
Walley is angry with governments and health organizations for not investing more money to cut the maternal mortality rates.
At the 1989 World Summit of Children, he said, one of the co-chairs, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, noted that the state of health of mothers was "appalling" and said maternal mortality rates must be lowered by 50 per cent by the year 2000.
"It never happened," said Walley.
In 1996, UNICEF called the lack of progress on the issue "a conspiracy of silence and a lack of imagination," he added.
Walley said AIDS is the most political of all diseases and noted that the Canadian government recently announced it will contribute $250 million to the United Nations campaign to raise the $7 billion to fight the disease.
Walley said he has no problem with that because "AIDS is appalling" and "a disaster," but he wondered why "motherhood is not politically important."
He also decried federal government reductions in foreign aid in recent years. Canada ranks 22 in a list of 27 industrialized countries in what it gives in aid, said Walley.
"We hear over and over that we are the richest country and everybody wants to live in our country, and we find that we are one of the meanest."
MaterCare International has prevention programs in place in West Africa funded by MCI, the Canadian International Development Agency and by donations from the Catholic Women's League of Canada, which has been a major supporter of MaterCare.
"Without the CWL we wouldn't have gotten anywhere at the beginning and you continue to support us," he said in thanking the CWL members.
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