Jamaican Looks To Take Health Care Home

11 April 2014 Author  LORNA OWENS

Owens-LornaEvery 90 seconds a woman dies as a result of complications of pregnancy. Every year over a million babies die in their first day of life. We have an international crisis, but the world does not care.

Two and half years ago I saw a CNN piece called “War on Women, Rape as a Weapon of War”. It told the story of the over two million women who have been raped in the D.R. Congo. The numerous and the viciousness of the rapes have earned the Congo the name the “rape capital of the world” or “the worst place on earth to be a woman”.

Twice per year I close my law practice and travel to the Congo with a team of doctors and nurses. We see rape survivors, rebel soldiers and war up close and personal.

Every March and October, Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, professor emeritus obstetric and gynecology at the University of Miami, one other health professional and I take the trip to an area of the eastern Congo called Bukuva to train doctors, nurses and traditional birthing attendants on best midwifery practices. The work is hard, our hours are long but rewarding.

Our favorite group is the traditional birth attendants. We find them in an area called Mwenga, a three hour drive outside of Bukuva. This is often the most dangerous part of our travels as we have to pass through rebel territory. We pass mines controlled by rebels. Most westerners blame the mining of minerals for the six million deaths and the 20 years of war in the D.R. Congo. Coltan is a mineral found abundantly in the D.R. Congo. This same mineral is used in many electronics, such as our cellphones, hence the documentary “Blood in our Mobile”.

It is in this area we find a group of traditional birth attendants. They cannot read and write. They have never been trained to deliver babies and they have no supplies - not even scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Instead they use sticks and stones. So we train them and we give them clean birth kits.

Going Home

Then I started thinking charity begins at home. What about my own country Jamaica? I realized my own country needed me. The truth is mothers and babies die in Jamaica who don’t have to die. So we went to Jamaica on a fact finding mission, met with Minister of Health Dr. Fenton Ferguson and his team.

They are open and eager to reduce maternal and infant mortality. They need help and they need it now.

Sadly, they will not reduce maternal and infant mortality by two thirds by 2015, as most countries around the world is striving to do, in keeping with Millennium Development goals.

We met with Dr. Minevra Thames, head of the neonatology and her team at University of Hospital of the West Indies. We also met doctors at Victoria Jubilee and Bustmante hospitals. Jamaica need neonatologists. We will help the doctors and nurses fill that need with a training program put together by our global faculty.

We found that Jamaica has been able to reduce direct maternal deaths from hypertensive disease in pregnancy, hemorrhage by 47 percent, but indirect deaths from cardiovascular disorder, obesity and sickle cell remain high.

We also found a heartbreaking trend - teenage pregnancy - amounting to 15 percent of all live births. We will be starting an aggressive campaign against this trend. It takes a village. We need the help of the government, schools and churches.

We are committed to work in Jamaica. We will hold a fundraiser 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 17 at the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove in South Florida.

Jamaican Lorna Owens is an attorney and registered nurse.

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