Mother’s Day holds special meaning for some volunteers with the St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program. The Hamilton-area volunteers, consisting of doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professionals, visit Haiti to help mothers bring their babies into the world safely.
“In a country that has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, giving these mothers access to modern pre-natal and post-natal care is vital,” says Dr. Bob Hutchison, a Hamilton obstetrician and gynecologist. Dr. Hutchison visits Haiti multiple times a year with the St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program to train and mentor the Haitian obstetrician at a small rural hospital in La Pointe, on the northern coast of Haiti.
The St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program has been working in Haiti for more than two decades, and is concentrating its efforts for the next few years on improving maternal and newborn health at the Centre Medical Beraca in La Pointe.
“Roughly 75 percent of all babies born in Haiti are born at home without a doctor, nurse, midwife or other medically trained person present,” says Peter Sweeney, volunteer president of the St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program. “Some mothers choose to give birth at home because this is the accepted norm. Others do so because they cannot afford the cost of a hospital delivery and recovery. And still others do so because travelling to the nearest hospital takes many hours driving over bumpy, dangerous roads.”
The consequence, says Sweeney, is that a large percentage of the mothers who do decide to give birth at a hospital do so because they are experiencing a medical emergency, often during the final weeks or days of their pregnancy. The majority of them arrive at the hospital in great medical distress. Women die from entirely preventable conditions, including hemorrhage, infection and eclampsia.
The volunteers with the St. Joseph’s Health System International Outreach Program are helping to reverse this trend. By training doctors, nurses, midwives and other staff at the hospital, these volunteers are helping the hospital to save the lives or more mothers and more newborns.