Birth Rights photo exhibition in London

Posted by Emma Cooney Media Officer for Oxfam London and the south east

9th May 2012

Photo: Oxfam campaigner Lucy Aitken-Read with daughter Ramona, who was born at Kings, at the exhibition. Lucy chose a homebirth with Ramona and felt secure because Kings was just five minutes away.

Trained healthcare was a distant dream when Sukili was pregnant for the first time. Tragedy struck and she lost the baby. But ten years on she benefitted from Nepal's free maternal healthcare programme and had a healthy baby girl.

She told Oxfam worker, Ceri Averill: "It was a distant dream. Before we gave birth at home and there was no one to help us when things got serious. For a poor farmer like me the $100 was more than I earn in a year. Now things are different. We can be safe."

Ceri, a policy adviser, spoke at the launch of the Oxfam Birth Rights exhibition at Kings College Hospital in London. The exhibition champions the rights of pregnant women around the world and celebrates the successes of the free maternal healthcare programme in Ghana in a series of photographs of two mothers who arrive at hospital to give birth.



Photo: Mina Abossan (middle) and Vida Boye, of the Ghana Nurses Association, with Oxfam worker Ceri Averill (right).

"We take so many things for granted," said Ceri. "In many countries people are going into debt to give birth. Being at Kings and seeing this exhibition brings home the similarities in our experiences, childbirth unites women, but I'm struck by the differences. In many countries you pay for everything - even blankets and syringes. One of the successes is Ghana where making deliveries free meant ½ million more women gave birth with assistance in the first year alone."

Oxfam has worked with the Governments in Nepal, Ghana and Sierra Leone on changing healthcare policy to give pregnant women free pre and postnatal care. There is still more work to do. One Oxfam project in Nepal is making sure women have the information they need.

"Many people don't know what they're entitled to. We train community health volunteers to talk to rural communities and make sure the message gets through and those I met in Nepal were so enthusiastic. They walk for miles over mountainous terrain and when asked what they needed to make their job easier, they told me 'an umbrella and a good pair of shoes.' Their dedication is incredible."

Challenges include recruiting and training doctors, nurses and midwives in rural areas. In Nepal, the Government has introduced an incentive where working two years in a rural area prioritises you for further training.

Ceri heard some heart-breaking stories during her trip. When one woman went into labour, the ambulance was ready, but the family couldn't afford to pay. Eight hours later when the family had collected enough money, the woman had died. The husband had sold part of his land to pay for the ambulance and was left to look after the surviving twins. Another woman was carried to the hospital by villagers who walked for hours to get her there.

"We need to bring these situations to the attention of the decision makers," she said.

Mum of three Milly, who blogs as South of the River Mum, was shocked to hear that even when maternal healthcare is free women still have to buy disinfectant, a hairnet and bring their own bed sheets.

"I had three children at Kings. It's really nice to come back and see the exhibition. It means a lot to me. The way I got through it was knowing my midwife, it's an absolutely crucial part of the care. The thought there are people throughout the world who have hardly anyone to support them let alone a qualified midwife is really difficult to hear."

Photo: Milly Hutchinson aka blogger South of the River Mum.

Kings spokesperson, Carolyn Rushton, said: "At Kings we have high expectations in terms of maternal healthcare in our own hospital and across the UK. However, it's important we remind ourselves that there are parts of the world that do not have access to adequate care for pregnant women."

The hospital runs an exchange programme called Health Partners to research and improve healthcare around the world.

Oxfam campaigner Lucy Aitken-Read said: "The exhibition raises awareness of the situation of maternal healthcare in different parts of the world and to celebrate the work around the world where lives have already been saved. Birth Rights is about giving women choice. Hopefully enough people will see it and be inspired to sign our petition cards. We need to push the 0.7% commitment to international aid. That's where our Government can make a difference."



Photo: Vida Boye and Mina Buafoha of the Ghana Nurses Association, who support the campaign.

Mina Buafoha, of the Ghana Nurses Association, said: "For a lot of women in Ghana caesarean section is taboo. You're made to feel inadequate as a woman if you don't give birth naturally."

Again she sees the main needs as transportation, more trained health professionals and education for mothers before, during and after the pregnancy. She said many people in rural areas rely on traditional birthing assistants.

"The traditional midwife starts off labour and then when she realises it's not happening she sends the mother to hospital.  The woman is often in labour. If she can't walk she is carried. The journey is so long either the mother or baby dies."

She added: "I went to a village in the Ashanti region. It was four miles to the town. There was one car and it doesn't always work. If a woman goes into labour at night, she is carried by torchlight to hospital. Sometimes they don't make it."

Vida Boye, also of the Ghana Nurses Association, said: "Having a baby is about more than a trip to the hospital. Pre-natal and after care are hugely important. The future of the nation depends on the children of today. We need healthy children with healthy mothers, mothers who can provide for their children."

Ghanaian midwife Cecilia Addah, who features in the exhibition DVD says: "It's a joy to bring a child into the world, why should you die?"

Every week, around 75 women in Ghana die because of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The vast majority of these deaths are completely preventable

For more information and to fill out an online petition to pressure the Government to stick to its promise on international aid, visit www.oxfam.org.uk/birthrights.

Contact laitkenread@oxfam.org.uk to host the exhibition which is made up of 22 pictures and comes with a DVD, petition cards and booklet.

Blog post written by Emma Cooney

Media Officer for Oxfam London and the south east

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