Keeping mothers alive with clean water

When labor pains hit, most women aren’t concerned with clean water or access to care – all they care about is the fact that their babies are finally on the way after months of preparation and close partnerships with their obstetricians. However, women living in the poorest areas of the world do not even have clean water for the birth process. For mothers and their newborns, clean water is a matter of life and death.

Healthcare facilities in rural areas of the developing world have abysmal water supply and sanitation, heavily affecting the wellbeing of mothers and their infants. A 2015 World Health Organization report assessed water sanitation and supply in 66,101 facilities across 54 low- and middle-income countries. Out of these facilities, 38% have inadequate water supplies, 19% lack sanitation, and 35% do not have proper sanitary materials. If hospitals and clinics do not have water, one of the most basic resources in the world, how can they properly care for pregnant women and newborns?

At Lubwe Mission Hospital in Luapula Province of Zambia, there is often no clean water available for labor and delivery. Mary Mwape, a midwife at Lubwe, sees far too many cases where mothers and babies suffer from lack of clean water. “If a newborn child with a fresh umbilical cord is washed using water from shallow, open wells or unsafe water, the child is likely to be infected with diseases like neonatal tetanus or neonatal sepsis which may lead to death,” Mary explains. Without sufficient clean water, Mary is unable to follow demonstrate hygienic practices for her patients.

There are many drawbacks of delivering a baby in an environment without safe drinking water or sanitation, and sepsis is one of them. Sepsis is a condition triggered when the body is fighting a bacterial infection so serious it puts the body in shock. When in shock, the immune system weakens and blood pressure decreases, putting individuals at higher risk of death. From 2000-2013, sepsis was responsible for 16% of newborn deaths and 11% of maternal deaths worldwide. For such a serious disease, however, sepsis can easily be prevented with clean instruments, soap, and water.

Insufficient hygienic conditions in developing areas of the world are an enormous problem when it comes to giving birth and creating sterile environments for pregnant women. More often than not, unsanitary facilities and contaminated water sources drive up maternal and infant mortality rates. No woman should ever have to give birth in an environment without access to clean water, working toilets, and soap. No baby should be born in conditions that threaten their lives before they even have a chance to take their first breath.

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