Oveka Jana (right) visits Mary Samson, 21, as she rests with her newborn daughter Hannah Samson at Neno District Hospital, Malawi, where she gave birth less than 24-hours prior. (Photo by Zack DeClerk/ PIH)
Why focus on women and girls?
Despite being central pillars of families and communities, women globally continue to often be the most underserved and at-risk populations. Pregnancy and childbirth pose major risks of disability or death for millions of women living in poverty who lack access to basic health care. Each year in Malawi, for example, one woman out of every 160 who delivers a baby will die in childbirth, compared to one out of 14,285 in Canada.
Family planning is one proven method for safeguarding women’s health, but women in poor communities too often lack access to contraception due to high costs, long distances to clinics and gender power imbalances. If contraception were available, maternal mortality in poor countries could be reduced by as much as one third.
In poor or remote communities, access to prenatal and obstetric care is often limited. Each year in developing countries, just a little more than half of pregnant women receive the recommended amount of prenatal care, and a quarter of all births occur without help from a skilled birth attendant. This is true despite the fact that potentially fatal complications occur in 15 percent of births.
Mother-to-child transmission of HIV continues to be a concern in resource-poor countries. A simple and effective treatment for prevention of transmission has been available since 1994, yet 16 percent of children born to women living with HIV still become infected each year.
Around 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced sexual or gender-based violence, with rates in some countries as high as 70 per cent. For survivors of sexual or gender-based violence in resource poor setting, access to health care, psychosocial services and legal remedies can all be severely limited.
Partners In Health strives to address these inequalities by expanding access to women’s health services in the countries where we work. We provide access to family planning, medical care for pregnancy and childbirth, antiretroviral treatment for pregnant women living with HIV and support for victims of gender based violence. Approximately two-thirds of all our health care services are provided to women and their children—representing close to 1 million women’s health visits, family planning visits and deliveries each year.
Across many of our sites, nurses and community health workers provide patients with access to family planning and counselling around HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Meanwhile, obstetrician/gynecologists and midwives at PIH supported clinics ensure that high-quality care for pregnancy, childbirth, and related complications is always available.
Community health workers educate and accompany pregnant women to health centers for pre- and post-natal care to keep both mother and child healthy. Maternal waiting homes at major hospitals provide women from remote communities with a safe and comfortable place to stay in the later stages of pregnancy so that they are able to receive care from skilled health professionals in the case of any complications.
For more than 20 years, we have provided antiretroviral treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women in rural Haiti. The HIV infection rate of newborns delivered at our clinics rivals the rates in developed countries. This program has since been expanded to other PIH supported countries, working towards the goal of having zero cases of mother to child HIV transmission.
A PIH Canada-supported prevention and treatment program of gender-based violence in Haiti brings together health, legal and judicial structures and community leaders for a coordinated response, while also developing educational program for women, adolescent girls, men and boys.
In 2018, clinicians at PIH-supported facilities provided
Aminata Kebbie sits with her daughter, Susan, whom she safely delivered at the PIH-supported Koidu Government Hospital in Kono, Sierra Leone. Photo by Michael Nii Adjei / PIH
Pregnant with her first child, 28-year-old Aminata Kebbie had no money and no health care. Living in rural Kono, Sierra Leone, she thought it was impossible to see a doctor.
Then, in her fifth month of pregnancy, her neighbor, Kumba Soyama, reached out with potentially lifesaving advice: She could visit the PIH-supported Koidu Government Hospital for free.
Kumba, a PIH community health worker, accompanied Aminata to the hospital. She offered moral support during Aminata’s prenatal checkup and encouragement when her HIV test came back positive. Kumba too was living with HIV, and reassured Aminata that she would help her “live a strong and healthy life.”
From there, Aminata says, “Kumba visited me almost every day to make sure that I took my drugs on time.”
But Aminata faced one more obstacle: She couldn’t afford food, making her HIV medication difficult to tolerate.
PIH provided Aminata a stipend that enabled her to buy food, adhere to her drug regimen, and start a small business selling cakes and breads to build financial independence.
And with support from Kumba and PIH,
Aminata safely delivered her daughter,
Susan, after a healthy pregnancy.
Please donate and provide the world’s most vulnerable women with contraception, safe births, cancer screenings and more—saving lives in Sierra Leone and beyond.
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