Maternal mortality claims face of compassion

"Maria was a very active community member and an enthusiastic participant in Caritas Australia 's Oecussi program. Its is very sad to hear of her death in such preventable circumstances, but this is still a relatively common occurrence in East Timor, " said Ingvar Anda, Caritas Australia's Program Coordinator based in East Timor.

Through Caritas Australia's Agricultural program, Maria held the role of garden coordinator for the women's group in her village of Nefobai, in Oecussi, one of the most remote districts of East Timor.

When interviewed last year for the Project Compassion material about her hopes for the women, Maria had a clear vision of what she wanted the women in her community to achieve.

"I want the women to show that they have the ability to do something good for their families. I want to involve them in different activities so they can learn many things to improve their lives," she said.

Maria's untimely death is representative of the devastating statistic that 1 in 30 East Timorese women have a lifetime risk of maternal mortality, revealed through the Save the Children report, State of the World's Mothers, 2005. East Timor 's birth rate is amongst the highest in the world, according to the Timor-Leste Demographic and Health Survey, 2003, with a rate of 7.77 children per woman.

The situation in East Timor is not uncommon. Due to the lack of access to women's health facilities and education in rural areas, many countries in developing world are facing the same crisis.

Prak Sokhany, who is a Cambodian-based Program Officer for ACR/Caritas Australia, acknowledges that Cambodian women face the same risk as the East Timorese women.

"There are many women giving birth at home who ask for traditional birth attendants, but that is very high risk and not a safe way to deliver the baby," said Sokhany.

Jack de Groot, CEO of Caritas Australia said that supporters, volunteers and staff of Caritas Australia would be very sad to hear of Maria's death.

"We felt that we knew Maria because we all got to know her story so well, when we told it during Project Compassion last year," said Mr de Groot

Maria's premature death shows how urgently the issue of maternal mortality and its link to poverty needs to be addressed. Maternal mortality is caused by poverty because women who cannot afford to have procedures performed in safe environments are at risk of blood loss, infection and life threatening injury.

"This is a major focus of the Make Poverty History campaign. Achieving a reduction of maternal mortality by three-quarters of current trends is goal number five of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and it is imperative that we act to reach this goal soon," said Mr de Groot.

Maternal mortality claims a face of compassion (Caritas Australia 19/8/05)

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Caritas Australia

22 Aug 2005