Jan 29 2010
Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, in addition to leaving lives and institutions in ruin, also exacerbated a much more common and lethal emergency in Haiti: Dying during childbirth. Challenges in transportation, education, and quality health care contribute to Haiti having the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, a national crisis even before the earthquake struck. While great strides are being made with global health issues like HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality figures worldwide have seen virtually no improvement in 20 years. Worldwide, over 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy. A NOW team that had been working in Haiti during the earthquake reports on this deadly but correctable trend. They meet members of the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF), which operates a network of health agents in more than 100 villages, engaging in pre-natal visits, education, and emergency ambulance runs for pregnant women. The United Nations Population Fund, which trains midwives to share life-saving birth techniques, says that with proper funding, public support, and wider application of simple but scarce innovations, such deaths could be reduced by nearly 70%. As humanitarian attention on Haiti slowly fades, the issue of maternity mortality remains as imperative as ever. But with an estimated 63,000 women in Haiti currently pregnant -- and a main midwife training school devastated by the earthquake -- the mission of keeping mothers alive has never been more daunting.