This post is part of a blog series on maternal health commodities. To view the entire series, click here.
Kelley Boldt is a young professional supporting PATH’s advocacy efforts to expand access for maternal health medicines in developing countries. During a recent visit to Ghana, she saw firsthand, for the first time, the needs driving her work and the lives she is helping to transform through improved health.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Africa for the very first time. In Ghana, I witnessed what I knew to be true from the statistics and research on maternal health: too often, women die preventable deaths during pregnancy and childbirth because they do not have access to simple, quality medicines and supplies. Becoming a mother should be a cause for celebration. Yet, this celebration is often overshadowed by the risks women living in developing countries face in pregnancy and childbirth.
I met two women with very divergent paths: one had been touched by the tragedy of maternal mortality and one had experienced the joy of maternal vitality. Meeting these women confirmed how severe the problem is but also how our goal of helping women and children to survive and thrive can be achieved.
I want to share with you the stories of these two women as a reminder of the individual lives we are working to save every day.
I saw with my own eyes how the loss of a woman impacts her family.
In the village of Asotwe, outside of the country’s second largest city, Vivian Badu sings in the choir at her church each Sunday, grateful for her blessings despite not having a reliable source of income. At home, she cares for nine young children—three of whom are her own while six belonged to her sister. Four years ago, Vivian lost her sister, Helena Badu, following childbirth due to high blood pressure and excessive bleeding. At the age of 34, Helena died shortly after her son took his first breath. Vivian herself was six months pregnant at the time of her sister’s death. She is now responsible for the children’s well-being and keeping her sister’s memory alive. In six months, Vivian will give birth to her fourth child and prays that she will not suffer the same fate. Meeting Vivian reminds me not only of the powerful role that women play in community stability, but of the urgency to overcome the barriers women like Helena face in receiving lifesaving maternal health medicines and services during pregnancy and childbirth.
I saw with my own eyes what happens when a woman experiences a different outcome.
During my visit to the Kintampo Municipal Hospital in central Ghana, Florence Mumuni arrived in labor. Before too long and without complication, a skilled midwife delivered a baby girl. I saw the baby take her first breath and heard her first cries at the same time as her mother. Immediately after the birth, the midwife administered an essential injection of oxytocin to prevent Florence from bleeding excessively. News of the baby’s safe arrival spread to the hospital courtyard where Florence’s waiting husband cheered. Having access to a skilled midwife, a well-equipped facility, and lifesaving medicines undoubtedly improved Florence’s outcome. Watching her successfully give birth convinces me that investments in maternal health medicines and other lifesaving interventions makes a difference.
Looking forward: turning these stories into action
Witnessing firsthand how the health of a woman impacts the health of her family and community has further inspired my commitment to ensuring that women and children have the opportunity to live full lives. I want to help break the longstanding cycles of poor health and build on the lessons I’ve learned on the ground in Ghana as my career in public health progresses.
In September, during the United Nations General Assembly, when we all come together to hear the recommendations of the United Nations Commission on Lifesaving Commodities for Women and Children—a new component of the United Nations Every Woman Every Child initiative—the stories of Vivian, Florence, and many other women will be highlighted at a photo exhibit and reception hosted by PATH. It will be up to all of us to carry their stories and this momentum forward to ensure that women and their communities all across the world reach their full potential.