In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one out of every 144 women dies when giving birth. In the U.S. that number is one in 7,142. Yet, implementing a few relatively simple measures can easily reduce DRC’s shocking maternal mortality rate.
At the medical center in Bumbu, DRC, where Handicap International has been working for the last several years to make giving birth safer for mothers, staff can attest that’s possible turn the situation around quickly. Not a single mother has died here this year.
The Center for Mother and Child is a hive of activity. It is the only hospital in Bumbu, a suburb of the capital of Kinshasa, where more than 377,000 people live. There is one gynecologist and 23 midwives for no fewer than 150 deliveries per month. And yet the women here seem to know that they are in good hands.
Handicap International turned the once stark, bare-boned facility around since Handicap International intervened. Sunlight illuminates the previously windowless maternal wards, and the birthing rooms have new delivery tables and equipment. Thanks to solar panels, the hospital can continue to function when electricity fails, as it often does. The power produced by the solar panels is essential to keep the new incubators running.
Staff members have been trained in vital techniques to keep mothers and babies alive and healthy. “Thanks to Handicap International’s training we can identify problems much sooner, allowing us to take prompt action or refer when necessary,” says the head midwife. “For instance, in the past we didn't know what to do with a baby who wasn't breathing at birth, but now overcoming this problem has become routine.”
“Another one of our biggest lessons has been learning how to react when a woman doesn't stop bleeding,” says the midwife. “Hemorrhages are the predominant reason women do not survive delivery in Congo. In the past, as many as ten mothers per year died here from bleeding.”
One way to help ensure a woman has a healthy birth is to provide her with good prenatal care including at least four consultations prior to birth. However, most women come to the hospital for only one or two visits, or not at all prior to birth.
To counter this problem, Handicap International has trained health workers to raise the awareness of women in their communities. The health workers encourage pregnant women and girls to come to the Center for the recommended four visits. Thanks to their efforts, the number of women getting prenatal care is rising.