CARE Canada pushes support for maternal health programs

By Kirsten Fenn
Every year, close to a thousand women around the world die from preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A mother and her child in Tanzania.

By KIRSTEN FENN

A mother and her child in Tanzania.

A mother carries her child in Tanzania.

Every year, close to a thousand women around the world die from preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the World Health Organization.

This Mother’s Day, CARE Canada is asking Canadians to support maternal and child health programs in Africa by donating to its Mothers Matter campaign.

In many rural African villages, women lack access to proper maternal health services. Pregnant women often travel significant distances to reach health facilities, where they may or may not find the medical support they need, said Marnie Davidson, programs manager at CARE Canada.

Funds raised through the campaign will support CARE’s programs in Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, which address proper nutrition practices, provide maternal health services, and empower women to be active in their communities.

The programs are part of the Muskoka Initiative, a maternal and child health project supported by the government of Canada through the Canadian International Development Agency.

The Muskoka Initiative has allocated $1.1 billion to Canadian development organizations from 2010 to 2015, in order to reduce maternal and child mortality in 26 developing nations.

Tanzania holds one of the highest fertility rates in the world, while Ethiopia, Malawi and Zimbabwe face high rates of malnutrition, problems that Davidson said lead to high mortality rates in both mothers and children.

In order to create long-lasting systemic changes in these African nations, CARE participates in regional council meetings and sits on national bodies to support the implementation of efficient health programs.

CARE’s Muskoka Initiative projects also provide a village savings and loans program, which pools community resources together without using external funding, said Davidson.

Through this financing, communities are able to pay for maternal health expenditures, such as providing pregnant women with transportation to health centers, she said. It also allows them to equip medical centers with the proper amount of staff and equipment.

In Ethiopia, CARE is helping local women take control of their health, Davidson said. The women have created a standardized curriculum to educate themselves about proper infant and child feeding practices. They hold weekly meetings where CARE also introduces discussions about women’s roles in the household and community, in order to foster empowerment.

Women are often pressured to participate in unhealthy cultural practices, such as feeding infants tea or solid food when they are first born, Davidson said.

To combat the issue, CARE encourages exclusive breastfeeding, a practice that can increase child survival up to 15 per cent, she said.

So far, the programs have been very successful, Davidson said. She has seen women become more confident about making decisions and empowered by being given public space to discuss these maternal issues among themselves.

“That’s not something they would normally have the space to do,” she said. “But through this project, you create an enabling environment where the community accepts that women can come together and talk about child nutrition.”

By 2015, CARE plans to improve the lives of more than 2.3 million women through the Muskoka Initiative. While the four projects in Africa are only in their first year, Davidson estimated that thousands of women have already benefited.

With strong support from the nations they work in and from the Canadian government, Davidson said CARE is well on the way to meeting its end goal for the projects.

“While we work in development and we know we’re not going to solve poverty overnight, I think this initiative is excellent and I see that it has been highly effective,” Davidson said.

The Mothers Matter campaign will continue until CARE reaches its goal of raising $2 million in donations. For every dollar the public donates, the Canadian government will donate $9.

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