Defusing the Maternal Health Bomb

"The governments the world over must treat maternal health as they do with a defense force in readiness for war or a nuclear launch."

"The most potent weapon against the crisis of maternal death includes providing girls and women with access to an education and empowering information."

It was 11pm and the doctor still had not arrived at the maternity ward in Nairobi, Kenya. Seven women in early labor, three in active labor—all had fear in their eyes. Okeny-Lucia was one of only two midwives in the labor ward, and she was rushing from mother to mother.

"Oh Lord! Save me, save my baby!" More screams came from the furthest corner of the room. "Sister! Sister, oh! Oh! Aaagh!"

Okeny delivered a breech baby that night. Sadly, the baby never cried.

"I felt butterflies in my stomach, and a thin streak of sweat on my forehead," Okeny wrote on, an action media network where women are speaking out from 190+ countries.

"The mother raised her head and with a weak voice asked, 'Is my baby dead?' Tears were flowing from her eyes. I did not have an answer. The baby was lost due to the doctor's delay in reaching the facility."

While reading Okeny’s gripping personal story, my heart stopped. But hers is just one of many accounts detailing the horrors expectant mothers face around the world. Every day, we hear from women who are facing the dire consequences of governments failing to prioritize maternal and reproductive rights.

We know that every year approximately 287,000 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes. Every day, 1,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth. What's worse—90% of these deaths are preventable. From the US to Zambia, women are urgently transmitting stories from the center of this carnage. Their voices are like a bomb blast—hair-raising and brutal in their honesty. But they also contain solutions and innovations that can be shared across borders.

Locally, we hear that women health activists know well what is needed to improve their communities.

From her homeland of Uganda, Ikirimat rattles off a list of potential solutions.

"Skilled assistance during delivery," she writes. "Providing adolescents with appropriate, accessible, and affordable health services; increasing modern contraceptive use; upgrading health centers."

Women in the World Pulse community all seem to agree that upgrading health centers and providing women with access to clean, efficient, well-staffed hospitals is key to curbing maternal mortality rates across the globe.

"At the hospital, there was not a single doctor," writes Olutosin from Nigeria. "The room was crowded with women in various stages of delivery. We were forced to labor on benches, as there was only one bed. When the baby crowned at the birth canal, women would be transferred to the only available bed…. Every day, women are sacrificed at the altars of medical negligence in Nigeria."

Precious Meshi Nkeih of Cameroon describes similar negligence.

"With my third pregnancy, I had very poor prenatal care in the hospital where I registered: No lectures on my first visit, no essential tests, and an arrogant midwife who would not answer my simple questions. I eventually evaded this hospital to give birth in a private clinic where the workers were more hospitable. However, when I got my bill at the end, it had been consciously inflated."

99% of worldwide maternal deaths occur in developing countries. But many mothers in high income countries also face barriers to accessing skilled and compassionate health care. In an interesting paradox, while women in low-income countries are fighting to get women access to high quality health centers, women in industrialized nations are fleeing hospitals in favor of homebirths. "

After the five births I have attended as a doula, I made a decision to never give birth in a hospital unless it is a dire emergency," says Ynanna Djehuty of the US. "Why would I want my child to come into the world so violently?" She describes invasion of privacy, intrusive and unnecessary tests and surgeries, and medicalization of a process that she believes should be a sacred and natural experience.

Yet, women from both industrialized and developing nations find common ground in the absolute need for safe, quality, honoring health care.

"We must find a way to make birth a compassionate, safe, and loving experience for women, their male allies, and their children," continues Djehuty.

Taken as a whole, according to grassroots women, the solutions are abundant and obvious. All the ecosystems that support women from the day she receives her first period to the day she gives birth, must be strengthened. And this includes strengthening support from men in women's lives.

"No matter how well equipped our hospitals may be," writes Titilope from her home in Nigeria, "if the care, love, and support of men is missing, efforts at reducing maternal death will continue to be a mirage."

Importantly, perhaps the most potent weapon against the crisis of maternal death includes providing girls and women with access to an education and empowering information to be their own health advocates.

Precious in Cameroon says it best, "I call on my fellow women to study intensely when they are pregnant. We need to stand up for ourselves and put our health first."

As we are discovering at World Pulse, the Internet and new technologies are opening up new pathways for health education. As women use to network, they are exposing each other to their shared experiences, and interacting to develop new approaches. They are also foretelling a new, modern future for health care that blends both the ancient feminine wisdom and the highest standard of medical care. This is something that all countries can benefit from: health care that puts women and children first.

For Okeny-Lucia, she will continue raising her voice to resurrect her childhood vision.

"When I was young I thought being pregnant was sacred. Such great respect was placed on the womb that even in public places such as buses, I saw big, fat, short, and tall women and men springing from their seat to allow a pregnant woman rest. 'Mama Keti hapa.' (Have a sit mum). There was special attention accorded to these citizens because we believed they were bringing forth life and that was precious."

If we hope to defuse this global health terror, we must listen and mobilize alongside these women leaders who are the first responders to this pressing issue. By doing so we can gather the cross-border political force and outspoken moral authority necessary to make the quantum leap for women’s health at home and abroad.

Comment on this Editorial


Hello Jensine,

Thank you for your continued work in making our voices audible for the women's cause. To achieve a quality population, investment in girls and women is paramount. Indeed, the Women Deliver 2013 conference is a great opportunity to deliver women. May the message of the World Pulse community yield positive results in improvement of maternal health of women and girls.

Again thank you for raising our voices at this global platform.

Grace Ikirimat (Community Champion-Leadership Group)

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

Grace - Thank you for your comment. I have the highest respect for you and your bold vision and brave work, therefore your comment and all your contributions to making World Pulse what she is becoming means a great deal. WE are raising this issue together!!!

Jensine Larsen World Pulse

Thank you for highlighting the important issue of maternal mortality so poignantly and beautifully. At the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), we are focused on using mobile phones to get vital heath information directly into the hands of women across the developing world. We know that providing women with messages that are not only in their language and set within their cultural context, but also are kind, helpful, informative and actionable is critical to giving moms with the information they need to take the best care they can of themselves and their babies. We hope to see you at Women Deliver where we will be releasing a set of messages available for free to organizations for download which are focused on the importance of family planning and information needed in the critical post-partum stage.

For more information:

Hi there MAMA! We love your work at World Pulse. I will not be there, however, one of our representatives who uses mobile phones in India very innovatively will be - please keep you eyes open for one of our speakers on a panel - STELLA PAUL. And meet up with her, say hello. You won't be sorry!

Jensine Larsen World Pulse

What a great article highlighting the conditions in this world for birthing women. The situation is serious and your words have given me even more motivation to focus on my training this coming fall. Thank you!

Ynanna Djehuty

Dear Latinegra - thank you for your comment, it means a great deal. I am so impressed with your work and voice. Also, are you a member of ICTC? Shafia Monroe is a dear friend. I love the work!


Jensine Larsen World Pulse

You are welcome, and thank you! I am a member of ICTC. Shafia Monroe is wonderful and inspires me to continue the work everyday! She is an excellent role model and I hope to be like her in the future :)

With Immense Love,

Ynanna Djehuty

Thank you for this wonderful article and all of your powerful work! World Pulse is providing me with the information and education to find my way and my voice as an advocate for women in the United States and the Globe.

As an United States Marine Corps veteran I find your opening quote very powerful!

~"The governments the world over must treat maternal health as they do with a defense force in readiness for war or a nuclear launch."

I often feel that had I received the education I am now getting-primarily through organizations such as World Pulse- about women and the importance of empowering them globally then my development as a leader would have been quite different.

Because of my conditioning in the military phrases such as 'a force in readiness' fire me up! I now see and more importantly feel the Warrior ethos grounded in feminine wisdom. I have deep gratitude and hope when I see women standing in their truth as leaders on many fronts, in many different fields and staying connected to feminine wisdom. It is turning the tide!

Thank you Warrior Sister-I stand with you!


"I am a woman, that's my weapon!" ~Catherine Robbins

Your comment gives me hope and strength. Thank you for listening and standing together, and with our warrior sisters worldwide who are turning the tide towards peace.

Jensine Larsen World Pulse

Merci, je suis ravie de ce travail en ce qui concerne les femmes. C'est ce que vit du jour au jour les femmes surtout en milieux ruraux où il n' ya pas accès aux soins primaires encore moin l'assistance lors de l'accouchement. Aussi dans ma communauté de base nous venons de sensibiliser plus de 1500 femmes et 300 hommes sur le cancer du sein et du col de l'utérus. Nous avons trouver que suite à l'ignorance plus de 60 pour cent des femmes meurent avec ces cancers, et d'autres le prolapsus. Elles ont besoins d'une assistance. Merci Jeannette World Pulse

Dear Jensine,

Am back from a long abscence of network connection.Reason,I relocated to South Sudan from Kenya.I live in the rural,where network connection is still slow.There are time I opened and only saw he name world pulse for half an hour without the rest of the text. So now am glad ,I came for shopping to the bigger city -Juba and now it is great,I have all the world pulse issues. Thank you all the dearest women of world pulse for honoring me,I have come to a new place and it seems to be the same problem I wrote,shortage of midwives,Alas! So what am doing since am not yet in formal job. I visit women in the market place and neighborhood,in the church and provide my midwifery skills and education. I have made it a routine that with deeply embedded culture,I allow men to tell me the major challenges of childbirth,and in turn I give my advise and a roadmap that can ensure the woman will be taken to the nearest centre or report.There is progress in this part of the world but slow. Wait for my next episode of article. Thank you once again for highligthing women issue in Gucci-chime for change.

Lucia Buyanza -Clinical Instructor