Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 24, 2004
Childbirth can mean death in Africa
Catholic health professionals sponsor MaterCare to prevent birth complications
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
One hardly hears of it in Canada, but in the Third World, especially in Africa, more than 600,000 women die each year due to complications arising from pregnancy and giving birth.
"It's like a jumbo jet full of mothers crashing every four hours," said Dr. Robert Walley, founder and director of MaterCare International and a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Health.
Giving birth is the leading cause of death among women between 15 to 45 in developing countries and many more women are suffering terrible childbirth injuries that leave them scarred, disabled - in some cases ostracized from their communities - for life, he said.
Walley, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Memorial University in St. John's, Nfld., spoke May 18 to the Catholic Women's League council of St. Francis Xavier Parish. He was to give several other talks in Alberta and Saskatchewan over the next few weeks.
In 1995, he founded MaterCare inspired by the papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).
The organization is made up of Catholic health care professionals that aim to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates and protect the lives of babies both born and unborn.
MaterCare International has prevention programs in place in West Africa, particularly Nigeria and Ghana, countries where Walley has worked for years.
He said most women's deaths occur during or shortly after delivery due to lack of access to emergency obstetrical services.
Most of these deaths are the result of bleeding and obstructed labour. Thousands of teenage mothers, whose pelvises are often too small to accommodate a healthy delivery, are particularly vulnerable to injury and hemorrhage.
One of MaterCare's pioneer efforts is the West African Health and Obstetric Fistula Project. Centred in Ghana, the project consists of prevention, curative care, training, research and advocacy programs aimed at identifying and preventing maternal health care problems. The project trains birth attendants in African villages and arranges for obstetrical emergency patients to be transported to district hospitals.
A key component of the project is the establishment of a 40-bed birth trauma centre for mothers outside Accra, the capital of Ghana.
Walley blames lack of international funding for maternal care for the high rate of death among Third World women.
While billions are spent on birth control programs, very little goes to the provision of emergency obstetric care, he said.
"The real cause of motherhood mortality is that it has no political importance."
The obstetrician also decried federal government cubacks, which have placed Canada 22 in a list of 27 industrialized countries in terms of foreign aid.
Canada may be one of the best countries of the world to live in but it's also one of the meanest, he said.
"It's so sad to see so many women dying of complications that are so curable," lamented JoAnne Sting, a mother of five attending the meeting.
"I hope many young people will take it upon themselves to go there and help. All I can do is donate some money."
She gave a "substantial" donation to MaterCare following Walley's presentation. The parish's CWL also gave $500 to the organization.
MaterCare is currently raising US$2 million to operate its project in Ghana for the next five years. A number of church groups, including the Catholic Women's League of Canada, have supported MaterCare, but the fundraising efforts continue.
One way MaterCare raises funds is through its website, www.matercare.org. A click of the lifesaver button means a penny is donated by each of various sponsors to MaterCare.
People can also donate Airmiles by asking the store clerk to enter your Airmiles manually to #8007 7296378. Donations can also be sent to MaterCare International, 8 Riverview Ave., St. John's, NF, A1C 2S5.