Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese is an obstetrician and director of the international women’s health program at McMaster University. As founder of Save the Mothers (an international nonprofit organization that educates local leaders in the developing world on safe motherhood), she has dedicated her life to making pregnancy and childbirth safer. In June 2012, she was awarded the prestigious Prix d’excellence, an award given by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to doctors who go above and beyond their calling.
CKC: In a nutshell – what’s the issue of maternal mortality all about?
JCF: Every year 342,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes; 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world. Regardless of geography — whether you’re in Africa or in Canada — 15 percent of all pregnant women will have a life-threatening complication. But if you’re in Canada, help is readily at hand. Not so in the developing world, where we’re dealing with a system in which women can’t get the care they need.
CKC: You and your family have lived in Uganda – eight months of the year – for seven years to give oversight to Save yhe Mothers. It’s a country with a population about the same size as Canada’s, but where 6,000 women die in childbirth annually compared to only 10 to 15 in Canada. What are the biggest obstacles to safe motherhood there?
JCF: A lot of it is attitude. We don’t need any new discoveries. It’s the attitude of “are mothers worth saving?” Are we willing to put the money and the resources into saving mothers? And that’s a decision that has to happen at the government level. Along with attitude comes education. As people become educated about the issues, you see improvements in the way women are treated and the value that’s placed on women’s lives.
CKC: We’re guessing this could be a tough issue to talk about with children. No child wants to think about the possibility that “Mommy might die.” As a mother of three youngsters yourself, do you think this is an issue kids need to know about?
JCF: It is a reality for kids in the developing world that children do fear for their mothers. Children in the developing world don’t have a choice; they have to deal with it.
The most helpful thing for a child in the developed world is to realize that the world is not equal; there are people who have and there are people who do not have. It’s like we’re all at a party. The people on the left side of the room get a piece of cake. And then the host comes around and gives them another piece of cake, and then another. Meanwhile, the people on the right side of the room get nothing. There’s enough cake for everyone, but it’s that discrepancy in services and in what’s available that’s the issue.
Those of us on the left side of the room can raise our voices and get creative about ensuring that everyone is looked after.
Children don’t need to know all the details about how mothers die. They can know that: “Pregnancy is a wonderful time in a mother’s life, but it’s really important that she’s safe, and that’s why your mom goes to the hospital and has doctors and nurses to keep her safe. But there are lots of moms around the world that don’t have that. They’re on the wrong side of the room.”
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