By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

WASHINGTON, DC, March 19,2008 ( – Dr. Robert Walley last week addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, urging the U.S. to spend more to address basic health needs of children and pregnant mothers in the developing world.

Citing the billions of dollars that have been spent on so called reproductive health programmes, Dr. Walley said that maternal health is the most neglected of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) the United Nations hoped to reach by 2015.

“MDG number 5, ‘to improve maternal health by reducing maternal mortality and morbidity by 75%’, will not be met for 275 years at the present rate of progress,” he explained. “The reasons are poverty, lack of compassion, lack of political and professional wills, a conspiracy of silence, and a lack of imagination.”

“The consensus of the obstetrical community is that mothers need essential prenatal care, skilled attendants at all deliveries and specialist care for life-threatening complications,” he stated.

Dr. Walley illustrated the tragic state of maternal health in developing countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Kenya.

“Mothers in the developing world are experiencing ‘unimaginable suffering’ due to the scandalous lack of effective care during pregnancy and childbirth with the consequence that many thousands are dying,” he stated in his address.

“In my experience, mothers in Africa are optimistic and want to have babies as they know they are the future of their families, communities and countries.  Mothers in developing countries do not expect to die or to suffer birth injuries and those who die obviously have no voice, only ours, to plead their case for adequate care, care of the sort mothers have access to in the United States of America and Canada, which is second to none, but is frequently taken for granted.”

The World Health Organization claims that there are 600,000 maternal deaths annually, of which ninety-nine per cent occur in developing countries. However, there is no accurate data to substantiate these numbers, the reason being that most developing countries do not report information on births, deaths, the sex of those who have died or the cause for death.

Dr. Walley told the committee that, based on his experience at a mission hospital in Nigeria, 1,700 mothers die per 100,000 live births, whereas in Canada, where maternal deaths are at the level of what is called irreducible minimums, or 1/100,000 live births, he had never seen a mother die from a direct obstetrical cause.

However at the Nigerian hospital, he said such deaths occur almost daily and recalled one weekend during which there were four. The causes included hemorrhaging, obstructed labour, disease and malnutrition.

“Most mothers die in Africa alone and in terror in villages, as they have no way of getting to the hospital,” Dr. Walley said in his presentation. “Not only are the lives of these mothers abruptly ended, but also the lives of their babies, and in the aftermath the chances of survival of their young children decreases dramatically, resulting in the disintegration of their families.”

Dr. Walley explained that MaterCare International (MCI) has extensive experience in West Africa, working with local churches that provide 30-40 percent of the hospital beds available. In addition to providing much of the health care in rural areas in African countries, these faith-based hospitals have for many years enjoyed the confidence and trust of mothers and their families.

The MCI approach to providing this care is based on the organization of health services in rural areas of the Province of Newfoundland, a method of organization that endeavours to take obstetrical services closer to the mother.

MCI provides, at a small 30 bed mission hospital, full prenatal care, with treatment for common medical conditions. The hospital is linked by radio to an emergency transport team which can go to the mother and transfer her to the hospital safely.  Rural clinics and training for doctors, midwives and traditional birth attendants completes the organization.

In an interview with the St. John’s Telegraph, Dr. Walley said he was optimistic that his presentation was well received.

“You can’t argue with the numbers and you can’t argue with experience,” he said. “The U.S. appears on the verge of making a significant commitment to a maternal child health program, which could be in the vicinity of $600 million per year until 2010 or 2011.”

MaterCare International is an international group of obstetricians, general practitioners and midwives who are concerned about maternal health throughout the world, inspired by the message of the Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. MCI works with the Catholic Church serving those most in need, i.e., mothers and children, through its health care ministry.