Mosebo Village

Helping Mothers around the world

This post was first published on Motherly, a new digital community to help modern women thrive that was launched today. 

Mother’s Day is always a special time of year as it is a time for mothers to be celebrated, appreciated and loved for the endless work we do to raise, nurture and love our children. Being a mom is one of the most wonderful gifts I’ve ever received and as a world traveler and writer on global health issues, I’ve realized how lucky we are as mothers to have the things we need to raise healthy children.

It wasn’t until I began traveling in the developing world that I got a sense of the enormous inequities for billions of mothers and their children who don’t have access to health care, clean water and sanitation, food and immunizations to protect themselves and their families. As an American, middle class mom of two, I took all these things we had for granted until I visited India, Ethiopia, Haiti and parts of Central America where I witnessed the struggles and tragedies that many mothers around the world face. So many moms lost their lives in childbirth delivering at home with no help or lost their babies due to preventable causes. It is heartbreaking and incomprehensible.

Mosebo Village

In Ethiopia at Mosebo Village. June 2014

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Doctor’s Without Borders Launches #TomorrowNeedsHer

“These women will not be afterthoughts. They cannot be, because, as the title of the book says, tomorrow needs them”. – Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 5.03.37 PM

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th and in recognition of the plight of women around the world, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has launched Because Tomorrow Needs Her, a powerful multimedia project that highlights the fight to save women’s lives around the world by improving access to health care. MSF has been one of the leading international medical humanitarian organizations since its founding in 1971 and their work and dedication to helping the world’s most vulnerable people has been incredible.

Through the use of beautiful photography and intimate storytelling, Because Tomorrow Needs Her bears witness to the cultural, political and economical barriers that women and girls face in seeking access to essential, life-saving medical care in the areas that MSF works around the world.

“Bullets are often fired over the clinic but we have no plans to stop providing a space for women’s health” – Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Because Tomorrow Needs Her.

Intimately documented in seven chapters, Because Tomorrow Needs Her is a collection of first-hand stories of MSF doctors and caregivers trying to save women’s lives in the developing world. Combined with the gorgeous photography and videography of world-renown photographers Martina Bacigalupo, Patrick Farrell, Kate Geraghty and Sydelle Willow Smith, Because Tomorrow Needs Her highlights the challenges, successes and work that still needs to be done in women’s health in such far-reaching places as Burundi, Haiti, Malawi, Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a few of many places MSF works.

99% of all maternal deaths are in developing countries. Photo credit/Copyright: Martina Bacigalupo/VU

Copyright: Martina Bacigalupo/VU

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One Mom’s Quest to Save Mother’s Lives in Laos

For over three years, I have been a part of World Moms Blog, an amazing group of women writing about motherhood around the globe. These women have become some of my closest friends and I have been incredibly honored to work with them as a part of World Moms Blog, ONE Women and Girls, and Shot@Life. This week we are supporting, an organization started by one of our contributors, Kristyn Zalota, to make birth safer in Laos, one of the worst places on earth to give birth. 

In the rural areas of Laos where almost 70% of the population live, access to life-saving health care is sparse and many people live in remote, mountainous areas that are hard to reach posing challenges for expectant mothers. Per the World Health Organization, Laos ranks 21st out of all countries in the world in terms of the highest maternal mortality rates. The 2010 statistics are 470 maternal deaths out of 100,000 live births which is worse than Afghanistan. Infant mortality rate is not much better. Laos comes in as the 33rd highest with a rate of 54 deaths out of 1,000 live births (2014).

Mother and child in Laos. Photo Credit: Kristyn Zalota

Mother and child in Laos. Photo Credit: Kristyn Zalota

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Marie Stopes Addis Ababa

Maternal Health: The Forgotten Millennium Development Goal

This past June, I visited Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project with the primary goal of examining the impact of Ethiopia’s success at achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4  – reducing child under age five deaths by two-thirds – well before the 2015 MDG deadline.  Granted it is a stunning achievement that has put the spotlight on Ethiopia, it can also be argued that Ethiopia as well as many other countries around the world are failing to reach critical milestones for other MDGs such as maternal health.  MDG 5 – to reduce maternal deaths by 75% and achieve universal access to reproductive health – is trailing way behind the other goals coming in near the bottom.

According to a recent article published in The Lancet*, only 16 countries out of the 189 United Nations member states who committed to the goals are expected to meet MDG 5 by 2015. The consequences of this are devastating to women and their families.

The tragic facts about maternal deaths 

  • Every day, 800 women die from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth.
  • When a mother dies, the risk of death for her children under the age of five increases by 50%.
  • The number one killer of 15-19 year old girls worldwide is pregnancy and childbirth. Every year, 70,000 young women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth – over 70% of these deaths are preventable.

Access to universal reproductive health, the other piece of MDG 5, is also lagging behind. There are millions of women, mostly poor and rural, who have no access to family planning and are unable to space or plan their children. Furthermore, this year alone it is estimated that nearly 22 million unsafe abortions will take place around the world resulting in millions of preventable maternal deaths and longterm disabilities.

SOS Children Ethiopia

Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, is one of the five most dangerous places to be a mother in the world. One in 27 women die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth (25,000 annually) in Ethiopia.

With a population of 90 million, it is estimated that anywhere from 80-90 percent of mothers give birth at home with no trained assistant. In rural areas, where over 85% of the population live, it is even worse. Only an estimated 5% of mothers give birth in a health center with a trained delivery assistant. The chart below illustrates where Ethiopia falls compared with her neighbors:

Marie Stopes International Ethiopia

How Ethiopia fares compared with her neighbors. Source: Marie Stopes International

This means that Ethiopia’s maternal mortality rate is estimated at 420 per 100,000 live births (2013 WHO/UNFPA) which lumps Ethiopia along with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, as the top five highest maternal mortality rates in the world. As the population continues to boom in Ethiopia, it is critical that improvements are made to women’s access to family planning, safe abortions and labor and delivery care which would significantly reduce the number of women dying and having serious injuries during childbirth.

Marie Stopes International

The alarmingly high ratios of health care professionals per patients is another factor in high maternal mortality rates in Ethiopia. It is estimated that only 34% of women have received prenatal care and 57% of women have received no pre or postnatal care during pregnancy. Source: Marie Stopes Ethiopia.

Seeing a huge, unmet need for family planning and reproductive services, Marie Stopes International begin working in Ethiopia in 1990. Marie Stopes International works to provide sexual and reproductive healthcare to millions of underserved women around the world and has been delivering family planning, safe abortion, and maternal health services to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women for over 35 years.

“Women are dying because of lack of services and information. Having better access to family planning helps improve the lives of women and their families”.

– Marie Stopes Ethiopia Director Abeba Shibeau

Marie Stopes works in seven administrative states in Ethiopia, and runs a three-tier level of service throughout the country through Marie Stopes clinics, Blue Star franchises (600 Blue Star clinics in Ethiopia) and a call center that works nationwide. Before Marie Stopes entered Ethiopia, only 13% of the private sector clinics provided services in family planning yet the demand for contraceptives to space and limit children was and remains high. Only 29% of married women in Ethiopia are actively using contraceptives (Marie Stopes, Ethiopia) and an enormous unmet need exists for family planning.

Marie Stopes has filled this need by providing a call center and clinics that offer education, information and low-cost contraceptive options, pre and post natal care, HIV/AIDS prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and safe abortion when permitted, to woman and their families.

Addis Ababa

Expectant mothers checking in at a Marie Stopes Clinic in Addis Ababa.

 “Ethiopia is a much better place to be a mother today than when my mother gave birth”.

– Nurse Shewaye, the Central Area Manager for all Marie Stopes Clinics in Addis Ababa.

Marie Stopes Addis Ababa

An expectant mother relaxes a bit at a Marie Stopes clinic with her husband and son.

Another area that is helping save lives of women in Ethiopia and around the world is the provision of safe abortions.

Worldwide, one woman dies every 11 minutes from an unsafe abortion. Yet providing access to reproductive healthcare is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to save women’s lives. The World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that 5.5 million African women have an unsafe abortion every year. As many as 36,000 of these women die from the procedure, while millions more experience short- or long- term illness and disability. (Source: Guttmacher Institute)

Marie Stopes International

Infographic on the impact of unsafe abortions. Source: Marie Stopes International

In 2005, Ethiopia expanded its abortion law making abortion legal for cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment, and if the pregnancy or delivery endangers a woman’s life. A woman may also legally terminate a pregnancy if she is a minor or physically or mentally unable to raise a child. Despite the changes in the law, almost 6 in 10 abortions in Ethiopia are unsafe causing 13% of all maternal deaths. 

Marie Stopes

A woman entering a place to have an unsafe abortion in Ethiopia. Source: Marie Stopes.

Progress has been made yet continued expansion of affordable and accessible family planning and reproductive services is critically needed especially for rural women who represent 82% of all women of reproductive age in Ethiopia.

There are many reasons for pursuing an unsafe abortion however most of the time it is due to the false belief that it is the cheapest method while in fact many of these underground illegal abortions cost more than a safe one.

Furthermore, religion, fear and cultural issues are other reasons why women especially young and rural ones, will pursue an unsafe abortion and risk their lives.


The Make Women Matter Campaign

As the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals draws to a close, Marie Stopes International has launched a new campaign called Make Women Matter. The goal of the campaign is to ensure that maternal mortality remains at the top of the world agenda for future development goals. It also calls for achieving women’s rights and empowerment, universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and ending unsafe abortion.

World leaders will be meeting in New York this September during UN Week to discuss the future of MDGs. To ensure that maternal health gets the critical attention it deserves, please spread the word by sharing this post. You can also personally make a difference by signing Marie Stopes petition at by clicking here.


Newborn Ethiopia

Newborn baby in Hawassa, one of 10-20% of Ethiopia’s 3 million children born in a health facility.

I was in Ethiopia in June as a reporting fellow with the International Reporting Project. To see all my stories from the trip, click here


Material in this post was provided by Marie Stopes in Ethiopia and the UK. To learn more about Marie Stopes International, please visit their webpage here.  #makewomenmatter

USAID, Achieving the MDGs: The Contribution of fulfilling the unmet need for family planning, Washington DC: Futures Group International, 2006.

*The Lancet: Global, regional, and national levels and causes of maternal mortality during 1990—2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013

Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, Technical and Procedural Guidelines for Safe Abortion Services (2006)

Guttmacher Institute Ethiopia brief

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2014 – UN





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Ethiopian mothers

Saving Ethiopia’s Mothers and Children: The Fight Continues

“If she wasn’t bleeding, she would have suffered like I did and delivered at home,” said Fasika’s* mother Menesch at a Lie and Wait center for expectant mothers in rural Ethiopia.

Menesch was inside the room with her expecting daughter Fasika while nursing her three-month-old daughter on a chair. It was Menesch’s eighth child who, like all the rest, she delivered at home with no trained labor assistant.

Ethiopian mother

Menesch cradling her with-child in her lap at the Lie and Wait house in rural Ethiopia.

Fasika was a mere 15 years old with baby fat still surrounding her cheeks and a shy smile that often looked down at her largely pregnant belly. Meeting Fasika and her mother on the last day of my trip was the defining moment of my two weeks of reporting on maternal and newborn health in Ethiopia.

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Children of Mosebo Village

Hope in the Struggle for Ethiopian Maternal and Newborn Care

Reaching Mosebo village, about 42 kilometers outside of Bahir Dar in rural Ethiopia is not for the faint at heart. It requires a land cruiser, patience, and a bit of adventure to cover the hour and a half drive on bumpy, muddy roads to reach Mosebo and see how over 90% of Ethiopians live. If it starts to rain as it frequently does during Ethiopia’s three month rainy season, the road becomes dangerous and impassable.

Rural Ethiopian women

Once you leave the tarmac, you reach endless gravel roads and see the way the majority of Ethiopians live.

I visited Mosebo village as an International Reporting Project fellow to learn more about the miraculous success Ethiopia has made by achieving MDG 4 – reducing child mortality rates for children under five by two-thirds. Ethiopia stunned the world by achieving MDG 4 well ahead of the 2015 deadline yet there is still much progress to be made in reducing newborn deaths, particularly within the first 28 days of life which are the most dangerous days to be alive.

Per Save the Children’s “Ending Newborn Deaths Report”, every year one million babies die on the first and only day of life accounting for 44% of all deaths for children under the age of five. Nearly two million more children will die within their first month. Four out of five of these deaths are due to preventable, treatable causes such as preterm birth, infections and complications during childbirth.

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Save the Children Releases 2014 State of World’s Mothers Report

Just in time for Mother’s Day, Save the Children released its 15th annual State of the World’s Mothers report this week revealing the best and most difficult places to be a mother. This year’s report focuses on saving the millions of mothers, newborns and children living in fragile communities due to conflict and natural disasters, and their everyday struggle to survive.

Being a mother is a tough job. I can attest. But imagine what it is like being a mother in a war-torn country or in a place that has been struck by a natural disaster. Caring for your family becomes a daily race for survival. It is something that no parent should have to imagine. I applaud Save the Children for their amazing work and dedication to saving the mothers and children of our planet. These are the voiceless. It is time to give them a voice.

A mother holds her baby suffering from spina-bafida malformation in the special Baby Care Unit at Turai Yaradua maternal and children Hospital, Katsina, Northern Nigeria. Photo Source: Pep Bonet/Noor for Save the Children

A mother holds her baby suffering from spina-bafida malformation in the special Baby Care Unit at Turai Yaradua maternal and children Hospital, Katsina, Northern Nigeria. Photo Source: Pep Bonet/Noor for Save the Children

Following is a summary of the highlights in the report and five key urgent actions required to help save mothers and children around the globe. All information below is taken directly from Save the Children’s 2014 State of World’s Mothers report. 

Save the Children's 2014 State of World Mother's report

Save the Children’s 2014 State of World Mother’s report

2013 proved to be a challenging year for mothers and children faced with an extraordinary amount of humanitarian crises. Sudan, Syria, The DRC and the Philippines have all experienced severe hardship while even here in the United States families have been displaced and children threatened after the Oklahoma tornadoes and dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The 2014 State of World’s Mothers Report documents the progress we’ve made as well as the critical steps that must be taken to ensure that all moms and children are safe.

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Why I am advocating for newborn health

Earlier this month, I posted on the upcoming Newborn Health Summit in South Africa and shared some tragic facts about how many children are not getting a chance at life. The post is called “Crisis and Hope in Newborn Health“.

As part of the Global Team of 200, I have been working with the Gates Foundation this month to spread word and awareness about global newborn health in honor of The Global Newborn Health Conference being held on April 15th in South Africa. The conference is supported by Save the Children. MCHIP, Gates Foundation, USAID andUNICEF.

Today, my YouTube video was released on why I am advocating for newborn health. It made me cry. It is so beautiful that I had to share. It is a part of who I am, what I believe, what I stand for, and why I must advocate for all those voiceless moms around the world  who won’t have the joy of watching their children grow up.

I am so honored to be part of the Global Team of 200 and truly looking forward to my upcoming trip to India this May where I will go to advocate and learn more about maternal health.

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World Mom’s Blog: $5 saves 2 lives in Laos

I wanted to share a great post today on World Mom’s Blog, where I’m a writer and contributing editor, on a fantastic organization founded by  Kristyn Zalota called Clean Birth.  We all know that in developing countries having a safe birth for mother and child is not a given. In fact about 800 women die around the world every day due to complications during and after childbirth.


Photo credit: Wikipedia Free Commons.

Here are some facts from the World Health Organization that demonstrate how unacceptably high the numbers are:

  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
  • Maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
  • Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by almost 50%.
  • However, In 2010, 287 000 women died during and following pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented.

Please stop by and check out the post today, “$5 Saves 2 Lives” as well as our mission to raise enough money to fund 1000 clean birth kits. Let’s give all women the chance for a healthy and safe birth!

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