DR Congo Named Worst Place to Be a Mother

By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (May 15, 2013) – The importance of developing the healthcare system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was highlighted in a recent report that listed the African nation as the worst place in the world to be a mother, say representatives of the Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP).

In its fourteenth annual “State of the World’s Mothers” report, the London-based Save the Children charity compared 176 countries in terms of maternal health, child mortality, education, and levels of women’s income and political status.

“In order to combat rampant mother and baby mortality rates within developing nations, we’re calling on world leaders to strengthen health systems so all mothers have access to skilled birth attendants,” said Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children international chief executive.

Non-government organizations are providing much of the medical care. Eric Gunnoe, a pediatrician and president of the Paul Carlson Partnership Medical Ambassadors, says the ministry is seeking obstetricians, obstetrical nurses, and midwives who can educate medical personnel in DR Congo. “There is a desperate need for them,” he added.

“There are significant risks in Congo for women undergoing pregnancy and delivery,” says Calla Holmgren, an obstetrician/gynecologist who has participated in mission trips in some of the world’s poorest countries, including with PCP in DR Congo. “The risk of dying during delivery or postpartum is one in 30.”

“Qualified physicians, midwives, and nurses would almost certainly improve this statistic,” Holmgren continues. “The medical care providers in Congo are so open to receiving more education, and it is great when someone who is going for only a short time period can provide education to these people that are working to make a difference in their country.”

Last year, Gunnoe and four other physicians traveled to the hospital operated by the Congo Covenant Church (CEUM) in Karawa to teach medical personnel how to use equipment donated by PCP that will greatly enhance infants’ chances for survival.

Gunnoe said afterward that although he had provided medical care throughout the developing world, the trip to DR Congo was his most rewarding. As part of the program “Helping Babies Breathe,” PCP has supplied 250 medical kits as well as mannequins for the Congolese to practice with.

Medical personnel in DR Congo who learn the technique are teaching others throughout the CEUM medical system. Gunnoe plans to return in the fall to provide further education.

Gunnoe added that he hoped PCP would also be able to start providing Chlorhexidine gel for medical personnel to apply to umbilical cords. Infections such as tetanus and sepsis in umbilical cords and belly buttons contribute to neonatal mortality and hospitalization.

“We would love to have a congregation volunteer to be the ‘newborn tetanus prevention church’ that would fund Chlorhexidine gel tubes,” Gunnoe says. Tubes cost 23 cents apiece.

Marta Klein, a physician assistant who recently finished a term as a Covenant medical missionary, says that as many as three women in the Karawa medical region die each month from pregnancy-related complications. Often it is because they have gotten to a medical facility too late or have suffered from malnutrition.

“The number is probably higher because they’re not always reported,” Klein added. The deaths occur while women are giving birth at home or in the gardens that provide their family with food but which can be miles from a medical facility.

Klein, who has been helping to develop nutrition programs for babies, also had just begun to study the effects of similar programs for mothers. Very early results seem to indicate that mothers who receive proper nutrition have children with higher birth rates. “A lot more study needs to be done,” she emphasizes.

Klein estimates that 75 percent of the women in the Equateur Province, where the CEUM operates, may suffer from malnutrition. The problem could worsen this year because a lack of rain has destroyed much of the peanut and corn crops, both of which are food staples.

Meritt Lohr Sawyer, executive director of PCP, said the extreme hardships that afflict the Congolese—among the poorest people in the world—are all the more reason the ministry continues its fifty-year ministry alongside the CEUM.

“In the five decades since Paul Carlson Partnership was founded, the Congo has experienced ongoing war and unrest,” Sawyer says. “Exploitation and conflict have sadly become a way of life. Through it all, we have stayed the course in providing medical and pharmaceutical support, microfinance investments, and other assistance.”

Sawyer emphasizes the PCP work has been about more than providing assistance. “It is a deeply personal connection between the PCP family and those we work with in the Équateur region.”

In her report, Whitbread noted, “By investing in mothers and children, nations are investing in their future prosperity.”

Medical personnel interested in serving for a week in DR Congo or churches interested in funding the purchase of Chlorhexidine can email Gunnoe.

The Paul Carlson Partnership’s work in the African nation is not funded through the Covenant Kids Congo initiative.

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