Else where

This mom didn’t have to die...

On this trip through West Africa, I was reminded of one of the grimmest risks to human life here. Despite threats from warlords and exotic disease, it's something even deadlier: motherhood.

One of the most dangerous things an African woman can do is become pregnant. So I have been visiting the forlorn hospitals here in West Africa. Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality in the world, and in several African countries, 1 woman in 10 ends up dying in childbirth.

It's pretty clear that if men were dying at these rates, the UN Security Council would be holding urgent consultations, and a country such as this would appoint a minister of paternal mortality. Yet a half-million women die annually from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth without attracting much interest because the victims are typically among the most voiceless in the world: impoverished, rural, uneducated and female.

Take Mariama, a 21-year-old pregnant woman with a 3-year-old child living in a village here in southern Sierra Leone. Mariama started bleeding one afternoon before we arrived. When she was already half-dead, she was finally taken into the government hospital in Bo. The only obstetrician, serving an area with 2 million people, was away, so nurses suggested that in the absence of a transfusion, Mariama receive a plasma expander for her blood. But that would have cost $4, and Mariama and her mother had no money at all. So Mariama continued to hemorrhage right there in the maternity ward. At 1 am, she died. 

I've seen women dying like this in many countries. It's not only shattering but also infuriating. It's no mystery how to save the lives of pregnant women; what's lacking is the will and resources.

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