Pregnancy and Maternal Health Care: New Zealand & Zambia

January 25, 2016

I’m in my third trimester and as we prepare for the arrival of our first child I started thinking about what the experience of other women in different countries would be. I’ve seen so many expectant mum’s preparing for their little one’s arrival with the most gorgeous clothing, toys and things. I’m no exception, though we have kept everything to a bare minimum. We have a place for the little one to sleep (a cot), a Moses basket that’s by my writing desk so I can keep an eye on baby as I work, and a few clothes, two soft toys that were gifts, a natural baby body wash and books that Patrick and I have collected over the years. We still need to get nappies and a few other bits and pieces but for the most part we’re going to get things as and when we need them. As I sat sorting out items for my hospital bag I made a mental note to find out what the experience of women in developing countries might look like.

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As a World Vision Australia Blog Ambassador I’m lucky to be able to reach out to a team of knowledgeable and hard-working people with questions like these. Today, I want to share with you the experience of some pregnant women in Zambia and the one nurse, Agnes, the only health care provider for 15,000 people. She works in a clinic that doesn’t have electricity, only one delivery bed – and is without a simple ultrasound machine. World Vision is currently completing a new clinic next door to the clinic where Agnes works. The new clinic will have brand new rooms, solar electricity, piped water and housing for staff.

Like my appointments with my doctor and midwife, Agnes checks the blood pressure and weight of the pregnant ladies but unlike my doctor and midwife, Agnes has been on-call all the time – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a weeks for ten years. Agnes is 56 years old and can barely muster a smile for her patients. She’s in need of more –  more staff, more medicine, more space, more everything. This temporary clinic has three rooms – one for delivering babies, one in which to examine patients and another to store medicine.

This is where many of women who see Agnes will deliver their babies, a delivery room with just one bed.

A sharp contrast to the sterile, contemporary room in which I’ll have my baby. My midwife and I spoke about the importance of single rooms for mum’s and the impact that this has on rest, recovery and of course bonding with your baby. Those considerations simply wouldn’t be possible for Agnes and her patients.

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Even more confronting is what I, a woman in New Zealand am preparing to take to the hospital, and what a woman in Zambia is preparing. The centre can’t always provide these items for women, nor can they offer women accommodation after birth, it becomes vital that the women come prepared with their own supplies. This includes a razor blade which will be used to cut the umbilical cord.

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Here’s what my list looks like, it appears completely indulgent and I’m slightly ashamed that I have it this ‘easy’.

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This is Hellen, she’s 26 years old, she’s had three children (six, four and two years old). She almost had her two year old at the clinic but did not arrive on time. She lives far from the hospital and due to the distance, she ended up delivering on the way. Hellen had her baby in the grass, “I was scared the whole time, I think I’’ll start off earlier. I won’’t wait for labour pains to start. I’’ve heard about this clinic (a modern new one World Vision is building across the street). It will have more facilities. Delivery will be better. I feel very happy and excited. You know you will have everything you need to have a baby. This clinic will have power.””

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Felistus has a different story, she’s 28 years old and had a tough pregnancy. All nurse Agnes had to examine Felistus with was a basic stethoscope, a thermometer, and a scale to weigh and measure. Without an ultrasound machine there was no way for nurse Agnes to know that Felistus was carrying twins! Felistus walked to the clinic, as most people do, ““I was almost ready to deliver, but there was someone in the bed.” They quickly moved the woman who had just delivered. Before they put me on the bed I was frightened. There was a lot of blood already from the previous delivery.” ” It was dark, and without electricity Agnes lit a candle, holding it in one hand, she prepared to catch the baby with the other.

Her first son was born and then Agnes said, “Ah, there is another.” Felistus was not prepared for two children,  ““I only had clothes for one.”” With no running water at the clinic, Felistus had to wash up in a public toilet (a latrine). With no running water, there is only a hole in the ground to use when relieving oneself. Winson, Felistus husband says he understands that “this could have been the end of my wife’s life. And my sons.” In his spare time, he makes bricks for the new clinic, ” “If I am asked to do anything, I will give myself to help build that clinic.”

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all images courtesy of Jon Warren/World Vision

And this is the new clinic that World Vision is currently rebuilding. The new clinic will have brand new delivery suites, electricity, water, more staff and medical supplies. It will truly help change the experiences of women like Agnes, Hellen and Felistus. I so desperately wanted  to get involved and help so I’ve teamed up with World Vision Australia through Vision Sisters to help raise money to fund safe birthing kits and maternal health supplies to hospitals all over Uganda and other parts of Africa. Patrick and I aren’t having a baby shower for our little one and aren’t putting up a wishlist of items we’d like but we’d love if people wanted to celebrate this time in our life with us that they would contribute to my Vision Sisters fund. Our little one is already being born into a privileged world and lifestyle and it would mean so much to us if you would contribute to this fund instead.

Please feel free to share this story and the link to my Visions Sisters fund page. Thank you all so much for your continued support and generosity. I hope together we can make a contribution towards this effort.

2 comments

  • Joy Toose

    What a beautiful post, Vanisha! It’s shocking to hear some of the challenges women come up against – on top of the actual birth. Thanks for sharing this so eloquently. X

  • Kate

    Such a powerful contrast which any mum can relate to – and then feel only but the utmost admiration for our Zambia sisters! Wow. Thank you for sharing x

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