I began my official delegation adventures today. After I met with UNFPA staff at their Malawi headquarters and learned about their women's health programs, we visited the Michinji District Hospital and Health Center, one of the main hospitals for maternal health. Before I left for Malawi, I visited the neonatal intensive care unit at a Rhode Island hospital, and the differences between the two are astounding. To protect the mothers' and babies' health, women are not allowed to deliver babies without traditional birth attendants, so women travel from remote villages to receive care here. The maternity ward has 12 beds but 64 expecting mothers, who share one room. Many women do not risk relying on transportation to get them to the hospital so they stay there long before their due date to ensure a safe delivery.
Despite its challenges — hospitals in Malawi and other developing countries don't have medicines or technology to help premature babies — I was impressed by the Michinji hospital and its friendly staff, who make the best of what they have to improve women's health and decrease the maternal mortality rate.
Our second stop of the day was Mkanda Village, one of 232 UNFPA-supported villages. The trip was along a bumpy, dirt road and felt like a tiny roller coaster, and when the bus finally stopped I had to check to make sure I was still intact!
Having just left the hospital, I couldn't take my mind off the pregnant women who walk along this long road to see a doctor. On the way to the village I was appalled to learn that when a woman's husband dies, his family can kick her and her children onto the street because women in Malawi have no property rights. Realities like this are appalling and make you realize how many freedoms we take for granted in the US. There is progress, though. One ongoing UNFPA project promotes education and provides reproductive health outreach services. And villages are spreading the word about women's health, too. Locals write messages about reproductive health and protection against HIV/AIDS on their houses. It's a beautiful and creative way to support women!
For more information about Americans for UNFPA, go to americansforunfpa.org/getinvolved