>Cheap and unsexy is the way to go

>This item by Tim Costello and Martin Thomas about the still shocking level of maternal and child mortality rates in developing countries (and the latest contribution by the Bill Gates Foundation) is worth reading. I’ve always liked Tim Costello’s manner, his determination and passion for his work. Most of all, I appreciated the ways in which he differed from his brother. Tim doesn’t seem to be smarmy at all, whereas smarm was (is?) Peter’s main mode.

Couple of excerpts from the article:

More than 350,000 mothers die every year due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth. An estimated 3 million newborns die each year. Perhaps most tragically, research shows that up to 80 per cent of these deaths are preventable with basic health interventions.

And yet the maternal death rate remains stubbornly high. It is also high among some of Australia’s closest neighbours in the region, such as Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

The secret behind Nepal’s stunning success has been a ragtag army of almost 50,000 ”miracle women”. These volunteers trudge across the country administering vaccines, polio drops and vitamin A supplements. They are also providing life-saving advice to pregnant women, leading to more and more safe deliveries.

It underlines the importance of delivering sustained, basic health interventions. These are the unsexy, relatively inexpensive approaches: children are breastfed, immunised, given mosquito nets to protect them against malaria, or provided with life-saving vitamin supplements.

The ‘miracle women’ programme started in one province, and now covers 33. That’s amazing, given how strapped the country is economically and infrastructurally.

On reading a bit more about these Nepalese volunteers, the picture is still sobering. No doubt, the results of the volunteer health worker programme are big improvements on existing situations. I noted, though, that the programme was first introduced by Nepal in 1988 – that’s 12 YEARS ago. And, while I love people who volunteer and give so much of themselves, I can’t help thinking about the uncertainty of such a workforce, the level of commitment required of it, and whether priorities can shift to make these initiatives a funding priority (i.e. wages for the women who do so much of this work). After all, how many volunteers can survive without a livable wage?

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