Friday 1 June 2012

Oxfam Birth Rights Campaign

From the moment I told my GP about those two little blue lines on the stick, I was looked after by health care professionals.  My pregnancy was monitored, I paid regular visits to the midwife, I was given advice and support.  When the time came, I was relaxed to know that the maternity ward was a 10 minute drive from my house.  The care didn't stop there - post birth I was given support and help with breast-feeding, and my physical and emotional health was closely checked too.

My birth experience wasn't great and I've had a few moans about it, but when push came to shove - if you'll pardon the pun - there was ALWAYS a qualified, experienced, competent midwife the push of a buzzer away.

When things didn't go to plan, there was a small army of consultants, nurses, anaesthetists and surgeons on stand-by to perform my emergency c-section.

At no time did I EVER feel anything other than safe in their hands.

It's not like this everywhere and Oxfam are fighting hard to ensure that mothers stay safe while they give birth.

In Ghana, all women are now entitled to free health care during pregnancy.  This is a massive step forward, but it's not the end of the story.  Many areas are so remote and have so few trained midwives, that women are still at risk.

“It’s a joy to bring a child into the world, why should you die?” Cecilia Addah, midwife, Ghana.

If you are a woman in Ghana, your chances of dying during childbirth are 1 in 66.  Compare that to the UK where the chances of mortality during labour are 1 in 4,700.

Our government made a commitment to give 0.7% of national income to overseas aid starting in 2013.  It has taken 40 years to get this kind of commitment - don't let them back out now.  Show the politicians that you feel strongly about this issue and that this money pledged should go to prevent deaths during labour and other important projects.

Please, sign the petition here.  It will take seconds.

Oxfam have put together a gallery of pictures - they say a picture paints a thousand words, so I'll shut up for a bit now.

Selina's Story

Selina Fletcher, 30, prepares to go to the labour ward of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana's premier health care facility. In Ghana, Selina is one of the lucky ones - many pregnant women here still do not get the quality, free health care they are entitled to.

Selina is taken to the labour war through the busy waiting area of Kerle Bu Hospital, Accra.

Selina's overnight bag. In Ghana, many patients are required to bring their own disinfectant, bed sheet, hair net and cloths. Selina didn't bring these items with her, and told to buy them as soon as she arrived. The policy of free health care for pregnant women in Ghana was a big step forward, but these extra costs are still unaffordable for many.

As Selina's contractions intensify, the midwife examines her using the basic equipment available. Further investment is needed to train more health workers and provide modern equipment and medicines, so more women can survive childbirth.

After five hours in labour, Selina gives birth to a girl. A midwife is there throughout delivery and helps to clean the baby. Across Ghana, nearly half of all women give birth without assistance from a qualified health worker.

Savina, named after her Grandmother, opens her eyes for the first time.

Selina and her baby girl, Savina, rest in a lying-in ward.

Around 35 hours after giving birth, Selina (far right) leaves the hospital with her friends and family.

Selina's friend Sarah (left) helps her to settle in at home after the taxi ride from the city.

Selina's two sons meet their baby sister for the first time. Selina is fortunate to have benefited from Ghana's free health care policy, but not all women are as lucky. Not all women here are aware of their right to free care, a situation made worse by low levels of literacy and limited education on health-related issues.

Adumporka's Story

Adumporka Abotiyure gives birth in Sumbrungu Health Centre in Bolgatanga, north east Ghana. In rural areas like this, access to skilled, free health care is much lower than the national average, due to a critical shortage of trained health workers and clinics. Some health centres even lack electricity and clean water. 

Adumporka has brought her own soap, mug, disinfectant, bed sheet and cloths, as required by many health centres in Ghana. The extra cost of these items means some women are not able to take advantage of free health care. 

Adumporka’s new-born baby boy. 

Adumporka (right) was brought to the health centre by a traditional birthing attendant, 72-year-old Atulepoka (left), who remains by her side throughout. In rural areas like this, many women don’t seek hospital care because they prefer to use these traditional birthing attendants. But these health workers are often unqualified, and don’t have the skills to save lives when complications arise. 

Baby and mother take a moment’s rest. After just a couple of hours, they are asked to leave as there is limited space. It’s a reminder that more investment is needed in health centres, medicines and equipment, so more pregnant women can rreceive free health care. 

 Adumporka and her baby boy prepare for the trip home. This is another example of free health care protecting new mums and their babies – but much more needs to be done. Many women in remote, northern areas of Ghana are still not getting the health care they desperately need. 

Adumporka travels the 4km journey home on the back of her husband’s motorbike, carrying her new-born son in her arms. In northern Ghana, less than half the population live within an hour’s travel of a hospital or health clinic. This is preventing many women getting the free health care they deserve. 

Adumporka’s mother-in-law holds her new grandson. He will be named as part of a traditional ceremony, where family members decide if he is a reincarnated relative. 

Adumporka’s relatives and the traditional birthing attendant bury the placenta and umbilical cord. Tradition requires a burial so that the woman remains fertile. 

Adumporka stays indoors for three days after the birth, according to the local tradition. During this time, her mother-in-law washes her regularly in shea butter. 

All photos: credit Abbie Trayler-Smith / Oxfam

What can you do to help:

Sign the petition and send a message to your MP

Read more about the issues and the Birth Rights Campaign

Spread the word on social media #birthrights and with friends and family

If you'd like to host the gallery and a post on your blog, get in touch and I can put you in contact or tweet 


  1. We take so much for granted don't we. Great post Liz and I have signed the petition/sent on to local MP.

  2. Awesome post, so good hearing this story told through your own experience.
    (Push comes to shove, yikes you, tehee)

    1. Thanks Lucy and thanks so much for bringing the campaign to my attention x

  3. I volunteered as a doula for 3 years in South Africa, working in some of the poorest area's and some of the things we saw were shocking... We really do take so much for granted. Great Post Liz :) x

    1. Oh wow Kerry, what an incredible thing to do.

      *takes hat off to you* x