One of the most exciting day in any parent’s life is the day we get to bring our baby home. I was ecstatic to bring our two twin babies home, and very scared too about being left on my own to care for them. But it was indeed one of the most exciting days of my life.
On a recent work trip down to Salavan Province in southern Laos, I got to see two beautiful healthy babies on their way home from a district hospital with their parents. I don’t know who was more excited, them or me! To witness that special moment really touched me because of the volunteer work that I’ve been doing with Cleanbirth.org to help expectant mothers and newborn babies get a safe start in life by providing “clean birth kits” to women in rural Laos who would otherwise give birth unattended at home or in the forest using often unsanitary tools that can cause infection leading to death of the mother or child.
For me to know the long and difficult road that these two mothers have taken to give birth safely made the miracle of birth all the more awesome to me. To know that unless they traveled all way to a provincial hospital, they most likely did not get any prenatal check ups, or vitamin supplements, or ultrasounds. Although the standard of care that we consider basic are indeed accessible and cost relatively little because they are subsidized by the government, they are only available in large urban centers. This means that the 70% of the Lao population who live in rural areas either require a lot of resources to receive this care, or get none at all. Many factors contribute to the inaccessibility of the care expectant mothers need including, geographic remoteness, lack of infrastructure and seasonal limitations for travel on rough roads, lack of transport or money to pay, little knowledge of the health requirements of prenatal care or services available, as well as family priorities of working for subsistence living and other household responsibilities, and many others.
And if lack of access to health services and birthing in a health facility are major contributing factors to maternal mortality, undernutrition is another big factor effecting maternal and child mortality rates. Maternal under-nutrition, which is predominant in Laos, can lead to low infant birthweight leading to poor infant health leading to high risk of mortality from illness or disease. And those born healthy are still at risk of undernutrition leading to stunting, “a consequence of chronic nutritional deprivation that begins in the period before birth if the mother is undernourished.” (Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition, UNICEF, 2009)
It is a complex convergence of factors which contribute to the problem but the bottom line is the same: Laos has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in Southeast Asia. Millennium Development Goals #4 to Reduce Child Mortality and #5 to Improve Maternal Health have made some progress in Laos, as reported in the recently published MDG review by the Lao government.
There are great efforts being made at every level of society and government here and some gains have been made but there is still quite a long way to go for us to help mothers and infants in Laos. A recent news article reported that the Lao government’s efforts of “offering free maternal and child health care since 2011 and doubling health expenditures in the past decade have helped, but more is needed to reduce preventable deaths.”
So knowing the tough road these two families have taken and the challenges still ahead for their two precious new babies, my heart expanded in gratitude and hope and fear all at once. As I watched them head out on their long road home, I wished them all the best of health in the years to come.
What are the maternal and child issues around the world that you are witness to or have a strong connection with? What do you want everyone to know about them?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow, in Vientiane, Laos. You can also find her on her blog Wanderlustress.