Friday, April 09, 2010

Every Mother Counts

Reproductive health encompasses any factor which has direct bearing on human reproduction and reproductive ability. The spectrum of RH spans from menstruation, sexual health, fertility, child birth and maternal health, breastfeeding and care of the new born, family planning to menopause.

Given the personal and sensitive nature of this terrain, it is a much neglected topic in our country. Be it at a state level or home talking about of RH is mired in shame and cultural taboos. Unmarried youth are especially kept far from any kind of information with the idea that they will come to learn about these things when "time comes", implying after marriage and the child birth. There is no formal mechanism for the youth of Pakistan to learn about any aspect of RH till they are in dire need or have suffered consequences of lack of knowledge. On one hand we are against providing the so called sex-education, which may be a vehicle for imparting life saving information to youngsters of the country and on the other we have certain cultural practices which are harmful and detrimental for health. For example it is common practice in Pakistan to give Ghutti (usually honey, and sometimes spit of an elder) to a newborn, while medical research has proven that the best food for the baby is mother's milk which should be given right after birth.

Considering the nature of distance of Pakistani youth with health issues, the JHUCCP, PAIMAN Pakistan and White Ribbon Alliance Pakistan organized a painting competition on the topic of maternal deaths at the University of Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi on 9th April 2010. Thirty students (mostly females) from Fatima Jinnah University, Federal Government Women's College F-7/2, Islamabad, National College of Arts, Beacon House and City School took part in the competition. The paintings were all themed around maternal health and mortality and were created using oil paints on canvass. Average painting was about 3' x 2'.

It was a mega event entitled "Every Mother Counts". Deputy Speaker National Assembly Mr. Kundi, Dr. Nabila Ali the Chief of Party of PAIMAN, Director of National MNCH Program, Dr. Amanullah Khan of White Ribbon Alliance along with the Vice Chancellor of Fatima Jinnah University presided over the proceedings. Dr. Ali shared overall situation of maternal mortality in Pakistan and enlightened the audience about the direct and social causes which contribute to maternal deaths and morbidity. Dr. Khan presented the state of newborns in the country. Dr. Ali and Dr. Khan's presentation on maternal and child health went very well with the students and I am sure they went home with renewed interest in doing something to save the mothers and newborns of Pakistan. After the proceedings, two of the best paintings were given cash prizes, judged by renowned artist Mr. Jamal Shah.

While the paintings were amazing and captured the theme of the plight of maternal health issues (especially maternal mortality) very well, I was seriously disappointed by the "youth perspective" on health status of women of Pakistan, provided by two bright women of the organizing university. The girls had the perfect pitch and delivery in English with an eloquently written text on the topic but failed to deliver what the topic of their presentation promised us--the youth perspective. While listening to the students, I felt that they do not know where and how to access good quality research material related to RH in general and in particular maternal health. I laud their effort and courage in presenting their ideas in that august forum but at the same time I think their talent and time was wasted. If finding the state of health of Pakistani women was so hard, they could have gathered the views of fellow students of the very topic which would actually have provided the "youth perspective" on the topic!!

But anyway, in my view, one small thing that the research/NGO sector can do is fill the knowledge gap. I think a handboo and/or website on RH in Pakistan with latest statistics, a short description of the rates and ratios and sources of information and sources of data and information would go a long way in at least spreading information which will hopefully lead to better knowledge and improved attitudes and behavior for RH.

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