Millennium Development Goals — Question for Short Debate
5:45 pm

Photo of Lord Patel

Lord Patel (Crossbench)

My Lords, professionally I am an obstetrician and I have witnessed the death of a mother in childbirth. It scars you for life. Therefore, I applaud the Government's new commitment to save the lives of 50,000 mothers.

One of the four drivers of the reduction in maternal mortality has been capacity building in the health system, particularly in trained and skilled birth attendants, including for emergency obstetric care. The UK is well placed to deliver on this. Professional organisations such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives are very experienced in this area. DfID already works through its five-country programme in sub-Saharan Africa with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. I hope that it will engage again with the professional organisations to meet its commitments. The methodology lends itself to interventions around contraception and essential obstetric care. This module can be quickly rolled out on a hub and spoke principle, as exemplified by the success of the partnership project in Malaysia, which is being spread into surrounding countries, such as Indonesia.

I am also encouraged that DfID recognises in its document that, for every woman who dies, 20 more suffer disabilities such as the terrible condition of obstetric fistula. I work with professional organisations to help to train doctors and nurses to care for such women. It is estimated that 20 million women with obstetric fistula exist in sub-Saharan Africa alone; there are many more in south-east Asia. Their tales are heartbreaking. Let me read some. A 26 year-old woman from Equatorial Guinea said:

"I endured 5 days with delivery pains. I was finally transferred to the hospital and the foetus was dead. After 3 weeks, I started to feel constant flows in my vagina, and the odour was very bad. The situation has persisted for 10 years".

A 22 year-old woman from Bangladesh said:

"Nobody wants to stay with me due to the smell of urine. Even my husband sometimes blames me for my condition".

A 48 year-old woman from Mali said:

"I am distasteful in the eyes of others. It is God's will".

Another woman said:

"Everyone has rejected me. Cure me or kill me".

It is possible to cure these women. All that is required is a commitment to do so. When you cure them and you see their faces, it is like magic. A 48 year-old woman from Tanzania said:

"I did not know that one day I would be like other women, because the problem was so big".

Another woman said:

"When I returned to the village, those who did not believe that I was healed were embarrassed when I saw them. I have become a person again".

Hitherto, DfID has not felt that it needs to do something for these millions of women with obstetric fistula. I hope that it changes its mind. Through the work of professional organisations, these women who suffer from long-term disability and who live a living death can be helped, just as the death of women in childbirth can be prevented.

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