Recently, at the 7th Annual Women in the World conference, I had the opportunity to join a group of women who are also doing things around the world to effect change when it comes to maternal mortality. The panel discussion, called ‘Birthing Solutions to End Maternal Mortality’, was supported by Merck for Mothers, who are on a mission to end maternal mortality.
As Host/Reporter for The Maternal Health Channel TV Series, which airs in Ghana to over 7 million viewers, I brought my experience from seeing things that were captured and brought to the forefront using media as an outlet. Zabaida Bai, who is President and Chief Executive of AYZH, a company focused on bringing technology to rural communities in order to provide safe birthing solutions was also on the panel along with Liya Kebede, Supermodel, Designer and Founder of The Liya Kebede Foundation and Mary Goretti Musoke, a Midwife and Founder of the Maria Maternity Ward in Uganda.
We all had our own unique experiences to bring to the conversation. We didn’t have enough time on the panel to discuss the solutions to the many problems we see in the front lines. It may seem very simple when we talk about the problems, however many solutions involve change in various levels of infrastructure.
In Ghana the top five reasons for maternal mortality include; haemorrhaging (excessive bleeding), complications resulting from abortions, hypertensive disorders, uterine ruptures, infections and ectopic gestation. Many of these can be prevented with solutions including accessing prenatal (antenatal) care. Some complications can be avoided if the woman and her health care team are aware of any pre-existing conditions that can be treated to avoid deaths of the mother or child after birth.
Some of the other solutions may appear easy to solve, but they are much more complex than it appears on the surface. For instance two major issues in Ghana include the instability in electricity and access to running water. Many communities still have to travel to fetch water, making it difficult to maintain sanitary conditions in health facilities. Also, the lack of stable electricity in many areas is cause for concern in hospitals and clinics. Not all of them have generators to rely on when the power goes out. And most women give birth at night, which means there are many stories of babies being delivered using a flashlight (torch light) because of limited to no electricity.
Regarding the issue of electricity, this can be resolved by implementing solar energy. Sounds simple right? Well, one of the reasons some are hesitant to install solar panels is the cost factor. Initial installations can be quite expensive. Especially in cash-strapped comunities. Also the maintenance of the panels in the longer term is a concern. An immediate simple solution would be the use of portable systems like the Solar Suitcases that would equip a health care facility with energy for tools needed during times where there is no access to electricity.
I think the government needs to play a more active role in allocating funds to the area of electricity and alternative energy sources to support the issue.
Another major challenge is the road network. The roads in most rural areas are dirt broken roads that are often bumpy and not the best to travel on in medical emergencies. Even in the major cities there are communities that don’t have a proper road system. This is something that could take millions of dollars to fix. To me the first solution would be building clinics that are closer to rural communities so they don’t have to travel so far to see a doctor. Incentives to post a physician in some of these areas is also critical to attract them to come to these villages and townships where the demand for their services is high.
Access to clean water is a critical issue in terms of reducing infections. Not only for maternal health but for all health. This is an on-going problem throughout the continent of Africa and in some parts of Asia. Ghana Health Nest wrote about how clean water could adversely change the outcome of maternal health. When water is stored in buckets and barrels the problem of mosquitos hovering around is cause for concern. Especially in regards to Malaria.
These are just a few of the ways maternal mortality could be significantly reduced not only in Ghana, but in many countries around the world. In theory, they sound more simple than they are to actually achieve. The complexity lies in government, infrastructure, culture and money. Hopefully all these areas can come together so we can see progress.
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