The young woman lay struggling to give birth in her little village in Sierra Leone. She is 18-years-old, and her labor has gone on far too long. Without qualified medical care, just the assistance of some village women, no one really knows what the problem is. As night becomes day, she begins to fatally hemorrhage and pass into a coma. When the sun is full in the sky, both she and her unborn child are dead.
Since 1987, the United Nations has been attempting to solve the problem of the tragically high rate of maternal deaths in Africa. According to the latest data, there are 640 deaths per 100,000 live births in Africa compared to 14 per 100,000 births in the United States! The UN’s “Safe Motherhood Initiative” has been pouring contraceptives and abortion drugs (such as RU-486) into several of the countries with the highest rates, but little has changed. Women continue to get pregnant and to die of the same complications which have been successfully treated here for over 100 years!
I don’t think there is anyone on either side of the abortion debate whose heart is not stirred with compassion and a desire to see change when stories such as the one above are told. It is not a situation unique to Africa; I think most under-developed countries face the same horrible dilemma. However, I know the answer does not lie with contraception and abortion! Therefore, I was thrilled to read today about an organization based in the United States called Maternal Life International (MLI) and a program they’ve developed to target maternal health in Africa, called Safe Passages.
MLI (like me) was disturbed that the type of care being provided in Africa was “reproductive care” rather than focusing on improving the obstetrical care that women received. So, they devised a program to address their premise that “every mother and baby should be entitled to a safe passage: to a pregnancy and birth free of death, free of serious injury, and free of the HIV virus.”
Safe Passages gathered evidence that there is a fragile “window of vulnerability” in which most women and babies die during childbirth: from the onset of labor until seven days postpartum. Lives are saved during this time by the presence of attendants who are skilled in assisting with birth. Safe Passages has been training African workers to clinically monitor labor, and recognize and treat the most common conditions (such as preeclampsia and hemorrhage) that cause death. They are also instructed how to perform a C-section, and to recognize when it is necessary.
There is a real focus in the organization on building relationships and treating their patients with respect and dignity. The Safe Passages Equation is: Respect for Persons+Safe Birth+Fertility Literacy= Healthy Mothers, Healthy Families, Healthy Nations. The women and their unborn children are treated as a gift, not as a problem or a burden. The focus is placed on providing good, quality obstetrical care to ensure a healthy birth. And, lastly, time is spent to instruct couples to use Natural Family Planning (NFP).
Instruction on NFP includes teaching both the man and the woman in the relationship how fertility works. Both partners must be actively involved. Rather than just having the woman take a pill (which may not always be available in impoverished nations) both of them gain a greater understanding of the way their bodies work and, therefore, an increased control of their reproduction. Hopefully, it will give men a better sense of his responsibility in the process. After all, isn’t education always better than living in ignorance?
Can anyone show me any situation that has been improved with more contraception or abortion? Have the rates of unplanned pregnancies decreased in the United States? Have we reduced the STD epidemic? Are there significantly fewer children born into single parent homes? The United Nations has been attempting to lower the high maternal death rate in Africa by their same old solutions, but to no avail.
I predict that by their use of love, respect, and education that Maternal Life International will succeed where the UN has failed. MLI also brings another vital element with them: news of God’s love! They are faith-based (Catholic) and therefore carry the best kind of hope with them. Please pray for this organization, and for the healing transformation of this suffering continent!
Keeping it true! Barb