Friday, 9 November 2007

MacArthur Foundation pledges to lower maternal mortality in Nigeria

During last month’s Women Deliver conference in London, the president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a private US based grant- making organization, announced that the Foundation will invest $11 million to reduce maternal deaths due to post partum hemorrhage in Nigeria and India.

This substantial investment includes the distribution of anti shock garments, a low cost neoprene suit that helps to stabilise women who are bleeding after child birth, as well as the uterus-contracting drug misoprostol to prevent bleeding, a calibrated blood collection drape to diagnose bleeding, and transportation to get patients to a health facility for assessment and treatment as appropriate. This promises to be very useful as 23 percent of Nigeria’s maternal deaths are due to hemorrhage, particularly in rural areas where transportation to health facilities is often delayed due to poor roads and poor communication.

The anti shock garments are made of lightweight neoprene and resemble the bottom part of a wetsuit. Originally it was developed for use on the battlefield. One of its benefits in a resource-poor environment is that it can be manufactured inexpensively and is reusable up to 100 times. When the suit’s five Velcro closures are tightened around the patient’s body, the compression stops blood from flowing to the lower extremities and forces it back to the hearths, lungs, and brain to counteract the shock. The results are immediate, buying time to transport the woman to a health facility where she can receive care. The woman can even remain in the garment for two to three days, if necessary.

According to a release by Pathfinder International, an organization that provides women, men, and adolescents with access to quality family planning and reproductive information, the introduction of the intervention package will happen in three waves. Pathfinder International and its partners will conduct outreach at the national and local levels to educate policymakers and local leaders about its benefits. Then they will provide training to over 900 health care personnel working in 500 sites and 500 traditional birth attendants working in communities. This training will enable health workers to implement the life-saving interventions and to ensure that women who are referred from the community will receive appropriate care once they reach the hospital. Finally, Pathfinder International will raise awareness among community members about complications that can be remedied with the help of the anti-shock garment.

The grant money allocated by MacArthur Foundation will not only go towards the anti shock garments and health packages for women, but also to addressing other indirect causes of maternal mortality include poverty, income inequities, underdevelopment, gender disparities, poor education, conflicts, food insecurity, and other social determinants of health.

Women Deliver was the biggest conference on women’s health in the last 20 years. Over 1,500 politicians including Ministers from Africa and Asia, human rights activists, NGOs, faith based organisations, health professionals and economists met at London's Excel Conference and Exhibition Centre to assess progress made in preventing maternal deaths and promoting child survival since the 1987 Safe Motherhood conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

*Reported by Amanda Hale

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