Date: May 1, 2012
To: The Government of Haiti & all decision makers
From: The Unborn Child from rural Haiti
RE: Maternal Health of My Future Mom’s Life
According to the law of nature, I am going to be born sometime soon to a Haitian woman living in abject poverty in rural Haiti.
Mr. President, I am still unborn, but very deeply concerned about the health of my Mother-To-Be and the decisions she will make in my first months seeing the light of day on earth.
You have advocated change for Haiti, which would allow us—the future generations—to stand on our own two feet. You said: “We plan from the first days of our term to sell a new image of Haiti.”
The number-one issue, I would like to address today in my first memo, Mr. President, is the health of my Mom and all the other mothers who will be giving birth to all future citizens of our beloved country, Haiti.
In Haiti, 76% of all deliveries are accomplished by unqualified and untrained persons, contributing to the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. Furthermore, 25% of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 15% of newborns have below average birth weight.
According to the World Bank, Goal Number Five of the Millennium Development Goals (reducing maternal mortality) has seen the least progress. The World Bank says, “Of all the health indicators, maternal mortality reveals the greatest gap between rich and poor women.”
The World Health Organization categorically calls for immediate implementation of a midwife program in Haiti. It estimates that a trained midwives program would help with prenatal care; handling complications during pregnancy and at delivery; and teaching proper nutrition. They say the midwives would totally change the horrific statistics that presently are the hallmark of our country.
Additionally, health experts agree that success or failure depends on available treatment during pregnancy, and the ability to transport pregnant women to adequate healthcare facilities during emergencies.
In our country, mostly in the countryside, there is very little help in health clinics for our expecting mothers. Many of us will be born on dirt floors at home, with no skilled or trained healthcare provider present during delivery.
Certainly, Mr. President, it must have been quite a wake-up call for you, but I suspect you fully appreciate the need for greater medical talent and for hospitals in our country, since you had to seek urgent care in Miami for a blood clot in your lung. Most mothers do not have access to adequate hospitals or clinics. Many of the mothers of unborn children will cross the border into the Dominican Republic to seek hospitalization there, because they understand healthcare in our country is far from adequate. They don’t want to die – I don’t want to die during my birth – but birth in the Dominican Republic means that we, The Unborn, are not citizens of any country and have been forced to give up our [Haitian] birthright. In Dominican hospitals, three out of four women treated for delivery-related emergency care are from Haiti. I think you would agree, Mr. President, that something is terribly wrong with this picture.
You have told our fellow citizens that you are the strength behind reason and change: “In the past, the State has exploited the population. Civil servants have grown rich. They have lost the sense of what is public function. Public function means service to the population.” These are strong, sincere words – calling for change.
Mothers in Haiti have many misconceptions, which adversely affect us, The Unborn, during our formative years. Mothers do not feed us eggs because they believe eggs create cavities in teeth; they deprive us of meat because they fear it causes internal parasites; and mothers withhold the feeding of oranges and bananas from our diet because they think it will activate worms. These are all myths that can easily be dispelled with a little education and infomercial.
When children have diarrhea, mothers stop breast-feeding because they believe they are poisoning us. Mothers in a child survival program learn that breast milk is one of the best ways to keep us healthy. (Many of our mothers give up breast-feeding because they themselves are so malnourished they no longer produce milk.) Mothers who stop breast-feeding give us only sugar, water and fruit juice. This causes us to be very malnourished.
During your trip to Miami, Florida, in April 2012 you made a vociferous call for Haitians living overseas – around 2 million in North America alone – to send more than money: “We need you to bring your talents back to Haiti. We need you to bring your skills and expertise back. The simple fact is that we cannot change our country without your support,” you said in Miami while meeting with community leaders. How about appealing to them to do specific, tangible things to help in the area of maternal health? North America has so many of Haitian nurses willing and ready to help you and our country! Reach out to them to help us today Mr. President.
Make no mistake about it – we, The Unborn, do appreciate and applaud your words because if words and actions are combined, our arrival and our future will be surely a bit brighter. You are correct that we need to enlist support of midwives from beyond our shores to train new midwives in Haiti. We need to train midwives, build health clinics, and rebuild our hospitals so mothers have the confidence to give birth in their own country. We need to provide education to pregnant women, so they know about prenatal health care.
In August 2011, our country took a major step toward enlightenment when we opened the 24-hour References Center in Obstetrical Emergencies at Delmas 33 in Port-au-Prince. The hospital specializes in the management of obstetrical emergencies and is increasing the number of hospitals that provide free care 24 hours a day. One of the major problems for our Moms is transportation from rural communities to healthcare facilities. Very often, the difference between life and death for us and them is a trained person present during childbirth.
The Reference Center Obstetric Emergencies was developed to address the problem of maternal and infant mortality. More women with high-risk pregnancies will be able to deliver safely, according to the words of Sylvain Groulx, head of the MSF mission in Haiti. However, how many of us will be born in filth, and die shortly afterwards, because there is no similar emergency center within our reach in rural Haiti?
You told the United Nations members: “…and in the case of Haiti, it is because, in fact, an entire people have been firmly convinced that I was elected with a specific mandate to materialize the change. When, in addition, in some cases, these factors are combined, the non-responses need to be more thoughtful, more responsible, more cooperative, and more determined.”
We, The Unborn, are grateful that your own recent medical emergency will help you to realize, and sympathize with, our plight. You said, speaking about your health challenge: “I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t lie down, I couldn’t do anything, my stomach was compressed. It felt as if three people were pressing down on it.” This anguish is similar to the pain mothers feel as they lie helpless during birth. You feel their pain. You, Mr. President, have had a unique insight into the anguish experienced by countless mothers in our country at any given time.
You told us that you had a team of six doctors saving your life. Our mothers don’t have even a poorly trained midwife. Why not? When? It is inexcusable in 2012 that we, The Unborn in Haiti, have to stake our beginning on untrained assistance during birth. You told Haitian radio: “I didn’t die because God wasn’t ready for me to die.”
Could it be that God saved your life in order for you to be the architect of change in Haiti, for immediate attention to Goal 5 of the Millennium Development Goals (reduction of maternal mortality), as well as attention to the Haiti Constitution, section H (Health in Haiti)? You do realize, Mr. President, that government together with civil society is responsible for addressing the issues of The Unborn.
I am writing in the hope that by the time I am born, the debate in our country will focus on me and my peers, and what life can be.
Thank you for reading my concerns, Mr. President. I will be writing you on a monthly basis in the hope the ongoing debate in our country will focus on me and the future generations of children of our beloved country, Haiti.
The Unborn Child of Haiti
- Ministry of Health of Haiti
- American Health Organization
- Doctors Without Borders
- Mr. Silvain Groulx, Head of Haiti’s MSF Mission
- The Millennium Development Goal 5 Monitoring Group (UNDP Staff)
- All non-profit organizations involved in maternal health care in my future country