Spare a Mother's Day thought for women of the third world
The capital of Malawi is surrounded by a lush green landscape and what locals call the M1, one of only a handful of main roads in the country, meanders up the side of a mountain through fields of maize which
stretch for as far as the eye can see.
Clusters of small mud shelters form villages along the roadside and children in bright colours play with whatever they can find, In Lilongwe old tyres or bits of metal drum help to pass the time.
However, scratch beneath the surface of this apparently simple life and a much bleaker picture emerges. Malawi has one of the highest numbers of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth. One in every 100
mothers dies either before or during labour.
"The main problem is an acute lack of trained medical staff; there are only 292 doctors in the entire country, for a population of 13 million people," says Oxfam worker Sarah Dransfield, who recently returned to llkley, following a fact-finding mission in Malawi. "One rural clinic I visited in the southern tea hills caters for more than 19,000 people from 11 surrounding villages. To put that into perspective it is like having one small, unequipped clinic, with no trained doctor, nurse of midwife for a population the size of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
"The nearest hospital with trained medical staff is around 10 miles away up a horrendous pot-holed dirt track.
"It might not be so bad if you have an off-road vehicle, but to get to the hospital women have to walk. Not only that, they have to walk whilst they are in labour and if that is during the night, in pitch black darkness.
"The reality is there just aren't enough midwives to go around. I met a group of inspiring medical students who were passionate about helping women in the poor, rural areas, where the need is most desperate. But they were sadly the last students to graduate from a free training programme, which is currently on hold whilst the government look to find more funding."
The situation in Malawi is not unique. Each year millions of women in poor countries across the world face death, serious illness and permanent disability because of complications during pregnancy and birth. With families celebrating Mothering Sunday this weekend, Oxfam is now asking people to send a virtual Mothers' Day card to party
leaders to demand action to end the millions of unnecessary deaths of women and children in poor countries.
The charity is also looking for people to support its aid efforts
abroad by signing up for this summer's Trailtrekker event in the Yorkshire Dales, which the charity hopes will raise some 600,000, money which will help support the very families most in need. "It's vital that aid money continues to reach those who need it most," says Sarah. "Safeguarding maternal health needs to be at the heart of health services and all women should have the right to free healthcare, so they no longer have to pay with their lives.
"For Malawi, there is hope. I was lucky enough to speak to the
country's Vice President, Joyce Banda, for whom the issue of maternal health has particular resonance. She was one of the many mothers who suffer complications in labour and when she began haemorrhaging needed urgent medical treatment.
"Fortunately she survived, but she knows had she lived in a village she would have died. She is a vocal campaigner for the dire need for
trained nurses and better medical services. As a Goodwill Ambassador on maternal health, she is determined to fight maternal death until the job is done, but unless immediate action is taken, for many women not just in Malawi, but across the Third World, it may be too late."
n To send your virtual mothers' day cards to party leaders visit: http://www.oxfam. org.uk/mothers_day
Join the TRAILTREKKER walk and support Oxfam's relief work
Oxfam is involved in helping people in disaster situations right around the world.
Chile, Haiti and war-torn Congo are just three of the 26 countries
where the charity is providing water, aid and sanitation to thousands of stricken people.
An upsurge of fighting in eastern Congo has seen almost a million people forced to flee their homes over the past 12 months. Oxfam says it has expanded its emergency response to deal with the situation, and is now providing vital assistance to some 800,000 vulnerable people.
Oxfam is still looking for people to support its aid efforts abroad by signing up for this summer's Trailtrekker event in the Yorkshire Dales, which the charity hopes will raise some 600,000.
Last year more than 600 people took part in the non-stop 100km walk, starting and ending in Skipton.
People should enter in teams of four for the sponsored walk, which will be held on the weekend of June 5 and 6. It takes most teams around 27 hours to complete the challenge.
For more information or to sign up, visit oxfam.org.uk / trailtrekker or yorkshirepost. co.uk/trailtrekker2010.