Talking about mothers’ right to life

“In a piece of Tanzanian folklore, a woman about to give birth tells her older children, I’m going to the sea to fetch a new baby, but the journey is long and dangerous and I may not return” –Professor Mahmoud Fathala “The road to maternal death in developing countries”

My name is Margarida and I’m a medical doctor from Lisbon, Portugal. It was in an overcrowded theatre in my hometown that on my first day as an official medical doctor I had to read out loud, with all of my peers, the Hippocratic Oath and I don’t believe a single person in that room was indifferent to those words. The benefit of being able to practice Medicine and to fight for universal healthcare as a fundamental human right for everyone was as important when the text was first written as it is now. This has made me passionate about building a career around that objective, hence why I’m currently pursuing my medical residency in Public Health, learning how to effectively provide healthcare to everyone.

I come from a country where everyone can get medical treatment for free and most mothers view pregnancy and labour without fear, believing they will be holding their healthy babies and that they will be healthy enough to watch them grow. During medical school, I’ve witnessed babies being born and felt all the happiness and bliss that only a maternity ward can provide. However, the reality for so many mothers across the globe is so much more cruel and unfair. Every day 830 women die during childbirth, 99% of them in developing regions of the globe. It’s too unfair and too inhumane to die from horrible preventable causes because of where you were born and your skin colour. To die young, at your most productive time with so much yet to fulfil and so much love to give to your family. Everywhere girls are still viewed as less and their value seen as less and consequently less “worthy” to save and in places plagued with poverty, women are still the poorest of the poor.

Encouraging results and continued efforts have changed maternal mortality rates worldwide; so how is it that we just can’t seem to take that last step to reach what SDG3 envisioned for women? The goal is to decrease the global maternal mortality ratio to under 70 per live births but estimates for some countries are at 239 per live births according to WHO. Why do we still fall short and fail mothers in poorer regions? I’ve had several ideas on how to change this mainly from a scientific perspective, based on several studies, by changing protocols or investing in evidence-based investigations to stop postpartum haemorrhages. However, I believe that a deeper cultural understanding of these women will be pivotal and for that, I can’t wait to hear what my UNLEASH colleagues can teach me about their own practice and beliefs and what matters to them and to their mothers, when it comes to family planning, prenatal care and childbirth. I’ll be joining people from all over the world, different cultures, different ethnicities, different realities during the UNLEASH Lab 2017 in Denmark to see what joins us together, what makes us human, and to stop indifference towards human suffering. I’ll be working to try to find different and sustainable solutions to Sustainable Development Goal number three to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” and I’ll take the most vulnerable of them all, girls and women, in my mind.

Lisbon, Portugal