Tuesday, August 7, 2007

First Day of My Official African Adventure

Today I began my official delegation adventures in Africa. First, I went to the UNFPA headquarters in Malawi, to meet the staff and to learn about the programs that this organization provides in order to support women and theirhealth. Representatives of the UNFPA are traveling with our delegation throughout the week and taking us to see various projects and campaigns in the local area. Our first site visit was to the Michinji District Hospital and Health Center. This is one of the main hospitals for maternal health. Women travel from many villages to receive help and to deliver their babies. In the maternity ward I noted that there were twelve beds yet I was told that there were currently sixty four expecting mothers. There are only four birthing beds, and there are always more women in need than there are beds. Many women come to the hospital to stay long before they are in labor, because they know that when they start delivering their child, there will be no transportation and they will not be able to have a safe delivery.
Before I left for Malawi, I had the opportunity to visit the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital in my town.The differences are astounding. The beds in the Malawi facility are falling apart, there is no privacy for the women, they are all put together in the same room, and their babies lay in the beds beside them. The women are of all different ages, some couldn't have been more then twelve years old. They looked sad and uncomfortable. In the US, we have the ability to save premature babies and those children often grow up to lead very healthy lives. We have the medicines and the technology to help these children. In Malawi, and in many third world countries, this is impossible.
I must say though, I was very impressed by the Michinji Hospital. The facility is clean and the staff is friendly. They are making the best of what they have, and they are absolutely improving women's health. They are helping to decrease the maternal morality rate in Malawi and they are providing women the chance to bear healthy children, and protect their own lives.
Our second stop of the day was to Mkanda Village. The only way to get to the village is to ride on a bumpy, dirt path. The entire trip felt like a tiny rollercoaster and when the bus finally stopped I had to check to make sure my insides were still intact. I can't imagine being pregnant and having to walk along the long, dirt road while enduring contractions, all in order to give birth in a hospital. Lucky for us, this is the dry season; the rain must make the road muddy and even more difficult to manage.
Mkanda Village is only one of the 232 villages that are supported by the UNFPA. In this village there is an ongoing project which works to promote education and provide reproductive health outreach services. Laws have been created in order to make obstetric care safer. For example, no woman is allowed to deliver a child without the presence of a traditional birth attendant. In addition, the village uses bicycle ambulances to provide transportation to health clinics and hospitals in emergency situations. One thing that I found especially creative is that the locals write messages about reproductive health, protection against HIV/AIDS, and other positive and informative messages on their houses. These messages are spread all throughout the village and they are a beautiful way to support women and their reproductive rights. The entire village program is greatly helping to reduce maternal mortality.
On the way to Mkanda Village I was able to talk with a representative from the UNFPA, and I found the following tidbit of information very interesting and I thought it would be appropriate to share it with you. In Malawi, women have no right to property. Therefore, if a woman's husband dies of AIDS, the husband's family has the right to the property and often will kick the woman and the family out of the house and onto the street. I was appalled at this information. Women in the US have so many freedoms, many of which I think I take for granted.
Today's trip was long and exhausting. We didn't return back to the lodge until long after dark and I am still slightly jet lagged. Tomorrow will be a full day as well and I know I will have even more to share with you…

No comments: