Newborn in Tanzania who suffered severe birth asphyxia

Benefits of Skilled Maternal Care in Tanzania

A baby who was saved due, in part, to his mother’s choice to deliver in a health care facility where they were equipped to deal with the complications that arose during his delivery.

It was my first of three weeks on an observational internship at the Iringa Regional Referral Hospital in Tanzania. I would be spending the day in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where they send newborns with medical challenges. Two newborns caught my eye; they were hooked up to an oxygen machine after suffering from severe birth asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain during birth). We left the room for half an hour and during this time the power went out. I thought little of the damage that a power outage could do until we returned to the NICU and I saw that one of the babies, who had been hooked up to the oxygen machine, had died due to the oxygen machine’s lack of power. It was heart breaking to see a human so small have such a short life. Luckily, the other newborn receiving oxygen was saved by the nurses and doctors manually ventilating him. All I could think about was what could have happened to these two babies had they been delivered without any skilled attendants present to care for them or their mothers. If these babies had not been delivered in the presence of a doctor or a midwife they both likely would have died immediately.

In my third and final week at the hospital I was fortunate to see several natural childbirths and Caesarean sections. One slow day on the labour ward changed suddenly when two men came rushing in yelling something in Swahili. The midwife turned to me and said, “there is a woman delivering in her car.” We grabbed a handful of supplies and rushed out to the car and were met with two other men carrying the labouring woman onto the ward. Not long after, she delivered a healthy boy. She was fortunate to make it into the hospital to be cared for by skilled attendants; so many women in the developing world do not deliver their babies in the presence of a doctor or midwife—for a multitude of reasons. Should a pregnancy-related complication occur, many of these women risk not only their own lives, but the lives of their unborn children.

These experiences reiterated the need for skilled birth attendants for labouring mothers. I was shocked at how many women die every year from pregnancy-related complications because such deaths rarely happen in Canada. However, most labouring mothers in Canada deliver in the presence of a doctor or a midwife who is trained to handle the life-threating complications that can arise. I am so thankful for the work that Save The Mothers is doing to advocate for women in the developing world to deliver their babies in the presence of a doctor or a midwife because these mothers deserve to live.

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