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Will you help girls beat the odds and realise their dreams?

Waiting for his cry

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The long wait to hear that Ali was alive. The events that saved them both.
Words: Alya Al-Khatib, Photos: Eleanor Farmer

It was early in the morning, and in the late stages of labour, when Raina felt that something was wrong.

She was at home with a traditional childbirth attendant, known as 'hilot' in this area of the Philippines.

"I couldn't take it anymore, so the hilot asked the doctor for help. I was afraid to go because I was afraid of being operated on. And besides, we don't have enough money for an operation."

Raina lives in one of the poorest areas of the Philippines - one that's beset by terrorism and political violence . Only 20 per cent of babies here are delivered by a skilled professional, and women are more likely to die in childbirth than in any other part of the Philippines. This was very nearly the case for Raina.

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Raina and Ali

We're in a small consulting room in the local health centre, as Raina recalls the ordeal.

You can hear people chatting and babies crying in the waiting room, down the white tiled corridor. A fan whirrs away in the corner, cutting through the warm air. Raina's tiny, one month old son Ali is fast asleep, breathing softly in her arms.

We both look down at him when he stirs a little. This is the health centre where he was born.

Oxfam is supporting the health centre with basic equipment like blood pressure monitors and foetal heart rate dopplers. When Raina was in labour, it was the centre's midwives, Sarina and Eliza, who came to see Raina at home and checked her blood pressure. It was dangerously high.

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An expectant mother comes in for a pre-natal check.

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The delivery room at Datu Odin Sinsuat's health centre.

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Midwives Sarina and Eliza.

"For those who are high risk and high blood and gravida, it's too dangerous to deliver at home," Sarina explained. Eclampsia is a rare condition that affects pregnant women, but left unchecked it can lead to several complications including seizures, convulsions and even kidney failure.

The midwives urged Raina to come to the health centre where she could be treated and - if necessary - admitted to hospital. Luckily, they were able to bring Raina's blood pressure under control, and she gave birth to Ali within moments.

But the anguish wasn't over: they waited to hear Ali's first cry, but the baby was quiet and pale. Eclampsia can also restrict oxygen flow to the baby, so they had to act fast to save him.

"He still had a heartbeat," said Sarina. "I tried to suction, and give oxygen. Then the doctor said, 'Transfer him to the hospital'."

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A military checkpoint on the road through Datu Odin Sinsuat

"I cannot explain my feeling while I was transporting the baby to hospital. I was telling Ali, 'You should be alive!"

"I believe there is some connection. We are helping people. I feel some connection with that baby."

Sarina raced to the hospital with Ali, along with Raina's husband Ricky. Eliza waited with Raina at the clinic and helped her recover. "My blood pressure was getting higher, because I was afraid of losing Ali," says Raina. "I didn't know what would happen."

At the hospital, Ali was given the treatment he needed, and he cried for the first time. "My husband told me that Ali was OK," says Raina. "I felt happy after hearing that Ali was OK. I couldn't eat until I heard that Ali had cried."

"If there was no health centre nearby… if the midwife was not able to help us, Ali would have died."

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Midwives Sarina (left) and Eliza (centre) with Ali and his mother Raina.

Lives are being saved with basic equipment like this, but it's half the battle. We need to reach people in the most remote regions with the health care they need - which is why we work with an incredible local organisation that recruits community health volunteers like Merlyn.

The community where Merlyn lives is three hours away from the nearest health facility, so she acts as a go-between - checking if people need assistance and giving out medicines.

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A community awareness session provides advice to women on safe pregnancy and childbirth.

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Participants at a community awareness session.

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Community health volunteer Merlyn from the area of Ahan.

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She doesn't just give practical help, she speaks out for people too: "Most people here say that if they die, nobody cares and if you die you don't matter in this country or in this place. But we are all equal here. We must get proper medication which we deserve."

When people like Merlyn speak out, we can push for changes to the law that recognise people's rights to proper healthcare.

Oxfam's staff and partners in the Philippines are determined to make sure every life counts, and every person gets the care they need.