Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
It is not often that I solicit donations for fundraising campaigns but sometimes there are causes and places and people that tug on that call to duty of giving voice and assistance to those whom we can help. And there are some things in life that we are so incredibly privileged to having that many others in the world are not so lucky to have access to – not even when giving the gift of life.
I gave birth to my twin children in a modern, sterile, and fully equipped hospital room with a professional team of doctors and nurses, medical supplies, equipment, and medicines if I needed them. Indeed, I did need all of it since my children’s birth required a C-section because one baby was breached, leading us to decide on the safest course of action for all 3 of us. We were lucky to have those options. Many expectant mothers and unborn children here in the rural areas of Laos do not.
A recent World Bank report on maternal health in Laos reported that 470 per 100,000 women die from pregnancy related complications as compared to 11 per 100,000 in the US. And compared to it’s neighbors, Laos’ rate is double that of Cambodia’s and eight times that of Vietnam. This high maternal mortality rate is reflected in the fact that 80% of the population gives birth at home and only 20% gives birth with skilled birth attendants.
The major factors attributed to such a high maternal mortality rate also include low quality health services, inaccesibility due to poor infrastructure, lack of trained birth attendants and hygienic birth supplies and practices. Because 73 percent of Laos’s 6.3 million people live in remote areas, rural women in the high mountainous regions of Laos are highly affected because doctors and midwives cannot reach them due to inadequate infrastructure. A 2010 report by the United Nations Development Program said that 68 percent of births were attended by skilled health workers in urban areas, while only 11 percent of births were attended in rural areas.
Rural women in Laos often give birth without trained birth attendants in rooms such as the ones pictured below or at home.
Officials at the Lao National Commission for Mothers and Children say that most maternal deaths occur due to simple complications that would normally be avoidable given adequate medical assistance, and overcoming certain beliefs in traditional birthing practices would help to reduce risks of infection leading to some of those complications. In some rural hill tribe cultures in Laos, women cut the umbilical cord of their newborn babies by themselves using a piece of bamboo sharpened by hand, and many follow the traditional grandmotherly advice to give birth at home alone.
To help reduce the problem of high maternal and infant mortality rates, the World Health Organization and the United Nations have long advocated for promoting clean birth practices which include the training of midwives in rural areas as well as distributing clean birth kits.
This is where $5 dollars come in.
For $5 a kit, CleanBirth.org will provide one expectant mother with what she needs to improve her chances of a healthy birth, as well as education and training of rural birth attendants.
Each kit ensures the World Health Organization’s principles of the “6 Cleans” for a safe birth: clean hands, clean perineum, clean delivery surface, clean cord cutting implement, clean cord tying, and clean cord care. Each kit is sterile and composed of hospital grade supplies, including:
- Padded blood absorbing sheet for comfort and easy clean up
- Medicated soap to prepare a safe birth environment
- Sterile surgical blade for cutting the umbilical cord
- Cord clips for precision and to help prevent infection
- Biodegradable bag
- Pictorial instructions
It is extremely personal for me to share these photos of the hospital room during our children’s birth, but I think about the contrast everyday since learning about birthing practices in Laos, and I felt the need to show them to you. I hope that it allows you, too, to appreciate what you have and help where you can. If you can give $5, please donate here because the gift of life is priceless.