Maternal and Child Health

Breaking the Chain of Maternal Health Risk in Haiti

Lack of proper healthcare has tragic consequences for a mother and her unborn child.

Breaking the Chain of Maternal Health Risk in Haiti
Lovely Jean, 11, getting her hair braided by her mother, Jesula, in 2011 in the southern Haitian village of Mizak.

Lovely Jean is a young women who lives in rural Haiti, a bumpy 20-minute motorcycle ride from the nearest paved road. To get to her house, one passes fields strewn with gray volcanic rock, riddled with Swiss Cheese-like holes. Lovely sits perfectly still in her house, amongst a general disarray of tangled piles of clothes, wearing a spotless pale pink shift dress with white flowers. She is so shy that she turns her head away when asked about her life — what her favorite subject is (French), what she likes to do with friends (play cards), and what her dreams are for the future (become a doctor). At age 16, she is in the 6th grade.

Lovely Jean lives with her 40-year-old father and three brothers in a small house on a plot of land that her father farms for a living. Her mother, Jesula, died in childbirth with her 5th child at the age of 34. So, in addition to school work, Lovely’s days are now filled with cooking, cleaning and watching her three younger brothers. Without her mother, she feels sad and lonely.

A Pregnancy Complication

Lovely Jean’s mother died of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, often the kidneys. If left untreated, preeclampsia can put a woman at risk of a stroke, impaired kidney and liver function, blood clotting problems, fluid in the lungs, and seizures. Babies may also be born prematurely, small or even stillborn. In rural Haiti, the incidence of preeclampsia is 18 percent, more than five times the occurrence in the U.S., where it is 2-3 percent.

Unlike many women in Haiti, Jesula had access to prenatal care. She learned that she had preeclampsia during one of her prenatal visits at the Haitian Artisans for Peace, International (HAPI) clinic and was told her condition required regular monitoring at a hospital.

Unfortunately, at this point HAPI doesn’t have the facilities to address complicated maternal cases. So with four children at home and her husband working as a subsistence farmer, Jesula was unable to act on this recommendation to get the care she needed.

Approximately seven months into her pregnancy, she “swelled up,” according to her husband. The first hospital he took her to said they didn’t have the capability of dealing with this maternal emergency. So they were forced to travel to Jacmel, about a 45-minute ride by car or motorbike. There, Jesula was told that her baby was already dead and that she had to deliver it.

After eight days in the hospital, she was released. After eight more days at home, Jesula died.

Increased Risk

Managing preeclampsia in the U.S. takes constant surveillance, but seldom results in maternal or child death. In Haiti, however, one study found that among women at the Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, 17.8 percent of patients experienced a stillbirth, and 1.9 percent of cases resulted in maternal death.

Experts agree that preeclampsia tends to run in families. So Lovely Jean will have an increased risk when she starts her family, probably sometime in the next 10 to 15 years. Hopefully, by the time Lovely Jean starts her family, she will have a better chance at receiving the care she needs at an affordable price and closer to home.

But this doesn’t have to be left up to chance. Your support of the HAPI maternity clinic’s future plans to provide comprehensive maternity services can assure that pregnancy for rural Haitian women is a safe, joyous occasion.

Haitian Artisans for Peace, International (HAPI) is just one of the many International Ministries United Methodist Women supports. Please visit our Maternal and Child Health page for more information, including United Methodist Women and UMCOR's joint initiative on maternal health.

Posted or updated: 7/15/2015 11:00:00 PM
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