For those of us working to improve the health and well being for people in the developing world, we know that the oppression of women and girls is a root cause of persistent poverty. Women, who only receive 10% of the world’s income, do 70% of work performed globally. Girls are more likely to be deprived of even a primary education, and drop rates for girls in sub-Saharan Africa are consistently higher than boys. The risk of dying in childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa is unspeakably high at 1 in 22; here in the U.S. it is 1 in 4800!
Our Babies and Mothers Alive (BAMA) and My Pads Programs, directly work to empower girls and women to improve health and education. Why do women die in childbirth in such large numbers globally? For decades the global health community has known the causes of high maternal mortality in the developing world. Almost all of the 303,000 women who die annually can be linked to one of Three Delays:
- The delay in the decision to seek care: This delay is directly impacted by the low socio-economic status of women. In many countries, women lack the right to make health decisions for themselves or the financial resources to get from remote villages to a health center. Often, pregnant and laboring women lack the knowledge regarding warning signs of labor complications.
- Delay in reaching care: This delay is due to poor transportation systems and infrastructure and the lack of funds to pay for transport to health centers when needed.
- Delay in receiving quality care once reaching a health facility: This final delay is due to the lack of knowledgeable and trained staff, medical supplies and equipment and referral systems.
The Babies and Mothers Alive Program is an active partnership with the Rakai District health system to address these key issues that put mothers and their babies lives and health at risk. Over the past 21 months we have:
- Performed assessments of the 24 health centers and hospitals providing maternal and newborn care to the half-million people of the Rakai District
- Trained and mentored the nurses, midwives and physicians at these facilities in the essential knowledge and skills needed to manage the complications of childbirth that put lives at risk
- Built the capacity of health administrators and district-level officials to monitor and evaluate quality of care so that they can take the corrective actions needed to improve health for mothers and babies
- Begin to identify local advocates for maternal and newborn health, who will serve as community educators as well as continue to strengthen systems at the local level that are needed to address this problem
- Begin a community-based health education program, to build awareness amongst women and their families regarding the importance of skilled attendance at childbirth
- In 2016, we demonstrated a 50% reduction in serious and life threatening complications
Why do girls in Uganda and throughout sub-Saharan Africa drop out of primary and secondary school at higher rates than their male counterparts? As with maternal and newborn mortality, there is no one answer. Girls are often kept at home to help with domestic and agricultural work, while sons’ education are more valued. Early marriage or pregnancies often force young women to abandon their education. According to UNICEF one in ten menstruating girls skip school for 4 to 5 days out of every 28-day cycle. A study carried out by the Netherlands Development Association in seven districts in Uganda revealed that girls miss 10% of school days due to menstruation. About one-third of girls drop out of school between the ages of 10 - 14. The My Pads Program is a partnership with the Rakai District Education Department and local communities to empower adolescent girls and young women with knowledge of reproductive health and life skills. To date, 1700 girls and young women have participated. In addition to eight after-school sessions covering topics such as puberty, menstruation, HIV, sexually-transmitted infections, gender equality and power dynamics, we teach students to make their own set of reusable menstrual pads, addressing a major cause of school absenteeism. This year, thanks to funding from the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, we will expand this program to 16 secondary schools serving 2400 adolescent girls and young women. We will refurbish water and sanitation facilities at these schools so that our students have safe and secure changing rooms and clean water to ensure good hygiene. Our program includes a social enterprise component. We will recruit local seamstresses to train young women to make reusable pads that can generate income and address the lack of affordable menstrual hygiene products for rural women.
Since 2003, Brick by Brick has been partnering with local communities to improve education, health and economic opportunity. Our programs focus on the health and well being of girls and women. We are fortunate to have many dedicated women on our staff, leading our efforts. You can become a partner with them in our work by clicking: GET INVOLVED