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Remembering Mothers in the Holiday Season

Photo: ©2015 World Vision

Photo: ©2015 World Vision

During the Advent and Christmas season, we look to and focus on the birth of Jesus. We hear stories of angels, shepherds, and wise men all celebrating the birth of Christ. It is a season of celebration and gratitude.

A big piece of the Christmas story is the story of Mary. We sometimes forget that she was young and quite unprepared to be a mother, delivering a child in less than ideal conditions. I often think of the parallels to Mary’s story that mothers in the developing world experience – delivery of a child outside of a health facility with no health care provider or birth attendant, many of these mothers just girls, without the proper medicine and nutrition to be healthy. One success of the Christmas story is simply that Mary survived her pregnancy and childbirth at all.

For 303,000 mothers around the world, they are not so fortunate. Every day nearly 830 women and girls die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, causes that often can be prevented. Almost 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, meaning that these deaths are a result of poverty and a lack of access to timely health care. These are women who lack proper nutrition, lack iron and folic acid, and have little to no access to a health worker. They are women who don’t know the signs of pregnancy complications, like high blood pressure, or don’t have access to medicine if they develop an infection or severe bleeding after childbirth.

A new report from World Vision shows the impact one innovation for mothers – mobile health (or mHealth) can have. Simply by using mobile phones, which are in the hands of most people around the world, we can deliver the right kinds of messages to mothers so that they can have healthy pregnancies. We can remind them when they need to visit the health facility for an antenatal appointment. We can give community health workers the tools they need to recognize the signs of pregnancy complications. Through this technology, World Vision is working to reach the lives of over 700,000 community members by the end of 2016.

Through a World Vision project called Better Health for Afghan Mothers and Children, which is funded by USAID, local health workers were trained and equipped with mHealth technology.  The health workers could use cell phones to send and receive information on a particular patient, including progress reports, medical records, and reminders about appointments and treatments. They could also access a wealth of medical information and connect to consulting physicians.

When Nafas Gol went into labor with her first child, like many women in rural Afghanistan, she gave birth at home. The traditional birth attendant who was there to help Nafas didn’t have the skill or equipment to meet her needs; the baby died. Three years after losing her first child, Nafas had another chance at motherhood. This time, she sought out Nasima, the community health worker, for regular checkups and advice. Nasima used the information that was at her fingertips, through the mobile phone software. When she detected a problem in the seventh month, she referred Nafas for skilled care at the Herat hospital. Nafas delivered a healthy baby in early May, about a month early.

The story of Nafas could have been the story of Mary. The fact that Mary survived her pregnancy and the birth of Jesus is its own miracle that should be celebrated during the Christmas season. But let’s not forget the mothers that we still need to reach and to save. Let’s remember the work that remains to be done.

by Lisa Bos, World Vision Director of Government Relations

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