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World Health Day 2005: A focus on women

© UNICEF Senegal/2005/ Pittenger
A new mother relaxes, baby in her arms, at Roi Baudouin Health Centre in Dakar, Senegal.

By Jasmine Pittenger

DAKAR, Senegal, 7 April 2005 – “Yesterday I worked a lot. I pounded millet, made food, went to the market. I did all of this after feeling the first pains of childbirth,” says Fatou (not her real name), her eyes widening as she remembers.

Fatou is 32 years old. She lies under a clean, faded pink sheet in a post-operative recovery room at Roi Baudouin Health Centre in Guédiawaye, a poor district on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. Fatou is so slight, even after her pregnancy, that the sheet draped over her body barely slopes up from the bed’s surface.

“I waited until last night, when I was really feeling bad, before I told my husband,” she continues. “We went to the maternity clinic and the birth was really hard.”

To call the birth hard is an understatement. Fatou began to haemorrhage from a ruptured uterus. She was brought from the maternity clinic to the health centre, the only one in five poverty-stricken, densely-populated urban districts that has an operating room for maternity-related complications.

“When I got here I was very, very tired,” Fatou says. “I had lost a lot of blood and I thought I was going to die. But the service here is very good; they saved my life.”

© UNICEF Senegal/2005/ Pittenger
Fatou (not her real name) recovers from childbirth complications at the health centre.

‘Making every mother and child count’

In Sub-Saharan Africa, one out of every 16 women dies in childbirth. But the tragedy of maternal mortality extends far beyond the mother herself. It extends to the surviving children left motherless all over Africa, whose chances for survival plummet when deprived of a mother’s care. It extends to the loss of much-needed income earners, and to the loss of opportunities for development – for individuals, families and societies.

The theme of this year’s World Health Day, on 7 April, is ‘Making every mother and child count’. The staff at Roi Baudouin Health Centre are working hard to realize this goal. UNICEF, in cooperation with its partners, supports the provision of training, public education activities, and equipment, including ambulances, anaesthesia apparatus, bandages and other medical supplies. All of these are needed to help the Roi Baudouin Health Centre, and others like it across Africa, succeed in their efforts.

“The impact of these activities is visible,” says UNICEF’s Abdoulaye Gueye, a Women’s Health Officer in Senegal. “Women trust the work that the centre is doing, and demand for its services is rising.”

Sadly, Fatou lost the child she was carrying, and a hysterectomy was necessary to save her life. But she has four children waiting for her at home, and the smile on her face as she talks about seeing them again is full of hope.



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