As we celebrate Mother's Day, let us recognize the importance of accessible maternal health services for regions in crisis and the significant role that maternal healthcare plays in driving sustainable socioeconomic development.
As we celebrate Mother's Day, I am inspired by the incredible strength and resilience of mothers worldwide. But as an obstetrician-gynecologist who has treated patients in crisis regions around the world, I am reminded of the countless mothers globally who struggle to keep their children healthy and safe, often in the face of insurmountable obstacles. Through my travels, I have witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences that can result when women do not have access to the basic maternal health services they need. The consequences of inadequate maternal health services are heartbreaking, from preventable complications during pregnancy and childbirth to the devastating loss of a child.
It is because of this preventable heartbreak that I decided to travel last fall to southern Bangladesh with MedGlobal, an organization that has established a maternity and birth center in Somitipara, a neighborhood in Cox's Bazar where the maternal mortality rate is 44% higher than the national average. I saw the immense challenges that Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugee mothers face daily, from lack of access to clean water and adequate nutrition to the trauma of being displaced from their homes and communities. It was both painful and inspiring to see the strength and resilience of these mothers as they fought to give their children a better life.
During my mission to Cox's Bazar, I was grateful to train two groups of local doctors and midwives using standard curriculum designed to strengthen their clinical skills and improve maternal mortality and morbidity. I witnessed the incredible need for this work, providing prenatal and obstetrical services to women who would otherwise deliver unattended without any services or safety net. Prior to arriving, I understood the importance of having more practitioners trained in lifesaving obstetrics in order to care for the high volume of refugees and internally displaced persons, and it was a blessing to witness the high-quality, empathetic care these women received at the clinic and its Mother's Club—which educates expectant mothers on sexual and reproductive health.
As a mother, I cannot imagine the pain and suffering these women endure when they cannot provide for their children's basic needs. But I am also inspired by their strength and courage in the face of adversity, and I am more committed than ever to working towards a future where every mother and child has access to the care and resources they need to thrive.
It is up to all of us to work towards a world where every mother and every child not only survives but can live a healthy and fulfilling life.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group, there were at least 3,700 maternal deaths in Bangladesh in 2020. Despite significant efforts to reduce under-five mortality rates and maternal mortality ratios in Bangladesh, considerable challenges remain: Half of all maternal deaths are caused by preventable conditions like hemorrhage, infection, high blood pressure, delivery complications, and unsafe abortion. Extremely young mothers are particularly vulnerable to complications such as obstetric fistula. Tragically, 14 newborns die every hour in Bangladesh, many occurring at home and without medical intervention.
Only 41% of the demand for maternal healthcare professionals is currently being met; access to skilled birth attendants and maternal care is limited in many parts of the country, with almost half of all births taking place at home without the help of professionals. Additionally, the lack of preparedness and availability of primary care, including union health and family welfare centers, has left thousands of mothers in rural and hard-to-reach areas without access to standard delivery care.
The situation is even more dire for Rohingya refugees, who have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar and are now living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Many of these women have experienced traumatic events, including sexual violence, and desperately need maternal health services.
Ensuring access to maternal health services in Bangladesh is crucial for the immediate well-being of mothers and their children but also for the long-term prospects of the entire country. When mothers die, families are left without their primary caregiver, and children are deprived of the nurturing and guidance they need to grow and thrive. This can have a profound impact on the social and economic development of the entire community. Research has shown that investing in maternal health can have a multiplier effect, leading to improved education, greater economic opportunities, and a more prosperous and stable society.
While at the center, I had the privilege of meeting several mothers and their babies. It was heartwarming to see the joy on their faces as they held their newborns and gut-wrenching to realize the alternative had they not received adequate healthcare. It is important to recognize that the situation in Bangladesh is not unique. Around the world, millions of women do not have access to the essential maternal health services that can make all the difference between life and death for them and their babies. This is particularly true for refugees and vulnerable populations, who often face additional barriers to accessing healthcare.
As we celebrate Mother's Day, let us remember the strength and resilience of mothers around the world and recognize the importance of accessible maternal health services for regions in crisis and the significant role that maternal healthcare plays in driving sustainable economic and social growth. It is up to all of us to work towards a world where every mother and every child not only survives but can live a healthy and fulfilling life.