Friday 23 March 2018

My baby girl would be dead if we lived in the developing world

World Vision aid agency volunteer Judith Gilsenan reflects on the dangers children face worldwide

Judith Gilsenan

When Ruby, my seven-month-old baby, got a vomiting bug, I rang the out-of-office hours GP service at St Luke's hospital for advice. They told me to take her to Crumlin Hospital because she was so young and at risk of dehydration from the diarrhoea.

When I got there, I was given sachets of an oral rehydration solution (ORS) to give to her. The sachets cost a couple of cent each. We were in and out of the hospital within three hours and though I was worried about Ruby, I never feared for her life. She was back to her happy, giggling, gurgling self within a couple of hours.

While at the hospital I saw a poster that said today is UN World Health Day and it made me think about what would have happened if Ruby had been born a few thousand miles to the south in a developing country and how different her life would be.

We have become very used to hearing shocking statistics. You probably have heard time and again that every day 24,000 children under the age of five die from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia. I also know that virtually all these deaths (99pc) take place in the developing world.

But it took rushing to the hospital with Ruby to really bring home just what those statistics mean.

If my baby daughter had been born in a developing country, there is a very good chance that she would not have survived such a minor illness as a vomiting bug.

I can only imagine the hurt of knowing that your child died from a disease that costs less than 10c to treat. It would never happen in Ireland, yet every year 1.7 million children under the age of five die from diarrhoea. It only takes a simple, and cheap, mixture of salt, sugar and water to rehydrate a child and save his or her life.

I have become a mother myself since I joined the aid agency World Vision Ireland four years ago.

It sounds clichéd but there is something about becoming a mother that does make you feel connected with the mothers of the world. Giving birth is the greatest social leveller I can think of. We're so instantly comparable -- biology is biology after all.

Three years and two children later, I still believe that expecting and delivering your first baby has to be the most amazing white-knuckle experience of life.

I think it's the same for most women. We all must lie awake wondering about the same things. How on earth am I going to get through the birth? Will my baby be okay? Can I be a good mother?

The women World Vision works within our development programmes in Africa are no different from us. They too are terrified, excited new mothers -- just without the hospital, the gynaecologist, the midwife, the sterile equipment, the breast-feeding support, the public health nurse, the vaccination programme.

Many women in the developing world give birth without any of the support we so thankfully take for granted and this is why 500,000 mothers die annually in childbirth or from other pregnancy-related causes. In other words, simply being pregnant can kill you, depending on where you live.

Ten years ago, the nations of the world pledged to reduce hunger and death from a lack of basic health care. In two of their UN Millennium Development Goals, leaders committed to reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds and maternal mortality rates by three-quarters within 15 years.

A sign of how much remains to be done is that right now, governments are only one-third of the way to achieving their target reduction of child deaths and only 10pc of the way to achieving their target reduction of maternal deaths.

It seems to me that despite the promises of politicians, saving mothers and children from death is simply not a priority.

Consider this -- today, the world spends €36bn on pet food.

If half of that amount were allocated to maternal and child health, the current child death rate could be cut in half.

To end on a funny note though, I spent some time in Uganda in 2008 and I remember one woman that I got talking to in a mix of English and sign language. She had a brood of children around her house -- various ages.

Her youngest was about 18 months, the same age as my first daughter at the time. I was trying to guess her age and I figured she was about 50. She was 34 as it turns out, the same age as I was.

She was clearly a jolly lady and her children were adorable, but life was obviously physically exhausting. For a moment I felt sad that life had been hard for her.

Until I watched her 18-month-old casually rub a streaming nose on her skirt and I giggled to myself and said 'Yep, I've got one of those too!'

The reality is that mothers and children all over the world are just the same. And so they should be.

Irish Independent

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