Mother’s Day in Malawi: an Open Arms volunteer writes on the charity’s work

Ezra, a six-month-old baby who has been living with Open Arms Malawi since January. (S)
Ezra, a six-month-old baby who has been living with Open Arms Malawi since January. (S)

For Mother’s Day, a volunteer at Open Arms Malawi writes on how giving birth in Malawi can be a very different experience to Britain.

Faye Murphy will be celebrating Mother’s Day for the first time herself this weekend with her two week old baby girl.

As Mother’s Day approaches, most of us will rush to the shops and spend our money on cards, flowers, chocolates and the like, all in the act of, quite rightly, honouring our mothers on their special day.

But do we ever stop to reflect on the situation in those countries where many mothers do not survive after the birth of their child, due to common complications treated daily in this country?

Open Arms Malawi was established in Malawi in 1995 as a result of a surge in the number of orphaned and abandoned babies, due in part to increased rates of maternal mortality (which is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of birth’) caused by the rise in HIV.

Open Arms provides shelter, food, nutrition and medical care to these infants and is an essential part of the community in a country which is currently ranked, by the International Monetary Fund, as the eighth poorest in the world.

‘Friends of Open Arms’ are a mixture of local volunteers and employed fundraisers, who have recently taken time to reflect on their experiences when three of its members became pregnant and embarked on the same precious journey as countless other women in the UK.

Common but well-managed pregnancy complications including screening scares, pre-eclampsia and post-partum haemorrhage among the three ‘Friends’ eventually resulted in the births of three healthy baby girls.

In the UK, should a problem arise during pregnancy or birth it is reasonable to proclaim that the quality of our maternity health care services and our accessibility to it, is good if not excellent.

In a developing country such is Malawi, pregnancy places women in a far riskier predicament.

Poverty and disease are intrinsically linked and so not surprisingly Malawi has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the whole of Africa (one in 36 lifetime risk).

One of the leading causes of maternal mortality according to the United Nations is HIV which, now in its fourth decade, is responsible for a third of all maternal mortalities, orphaning 700,000 children in Malawi and 12 per cent of Africa’s children.

This is because HIV is a known risk factor for post birth complications such as postpartum haemorrhage or caesarean section.

In Malawi, HIV is likely to exacerbate the instance of haemorrhage, the single leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide.

Post-partum haemorrhage is accountable for approximately 25 per cent of all maternal deaths followed closely by infections and pre-eclampsia, all common pregnancy complications in the UK.

Furthermore, survival of the mother is strongly associated with survival of her infant and therefore, maternal mortality is a direct risk factor for infant mortality.

Common pregnancy complications often have drastically different outcomes depending on where you give birth. Given the ‘Friends of Open Arms’, it is unsettling to consider what their and their infants fates may have been, had they been Malawian women.

So this Mother’s Day reflect on how fortunate we are to be born in a developed country, where new mothers mostly survive common birth complications and go on to celebrate this special day with their children.

Why not consider making a donation on behalf of your mother this Mother’s Day to Open Arms. As little as £5 can buy a weeks’ formula milk for one of our abandoned babies. Text LOVE19 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 today.

To find out more go to www.openarmsmalawi.org