As healthcare professionals, thought leaders, and innovators converge on Copenhagen, Denmark for 'Women Deliver', the team at Maternova honor all the work done by champions for women globally. We want to reflect back on a year of accomplishment and success for those who work tirelessly to provide women a better world. This past year has seen many triumphs including a reduction in maternal mortality in many key countries. But, we can’t overlook the preponderance of evidence that suggests we can still do so much better. And it is in that spirit, and solemn remembrance that we offer this piece.
In March of 2016, the public consciousness was rocked by the grim sight of a young mother, lying dead outside a hospital in Douala, Cameroon. Her pilgrimage to receive medical care for herself and her unborn twins ended tragically. This was not a death resulting from unpreventable circumstance, rather she died after being refused care based on her inability to pay. As an amateur video surfaced, likely shot with a cell phone, of a frantic family member heroically trying to cut the babies from their mother’s womb, remote viewers the world over called for immediate action and investigation into this horrific event that sadly is all too common in developing countries. Her name was Koumate Monique, she was only thirty-one years old. Both she and her children died because they were poor. Poverty should be classified as a ‘high risk’ condition for all women across the globe, but economics and medicine seldom co-exist harmoniously. Koumate’s death represents the underlying discrimination plaguing our vulnerable women and children. We respond with shock and horror, and call out for change, but do we ever think this can happen close to home?
The ties that bind women together, globally, are much closer than we recognize. Parallels of cruel treatment and abuse are not hard to come by if we take a close look at the headlines. Our right to care and fair treatment is being challenged, and it’s hiding in plain sight. The ties that bind are the shackles placed on American women inmates as they struggle to bring life into the world.
Tara Rhodes, a non-violent offender, who was incarcerated in the Mississippi County Detention facility began having severe abdominal cramping while in her jail cell. Rhodes was no stranger to the penal system, having a long documented history of drug abuse and crime commission. Her five living children were not in her custody at the time of her latest arrest. Struggling over the course of several days, Tara was clearly having a medical obstetric emergency, that would have been apparent to every changing of the prison guard staff. There was evidence of a life threatening situation as both amniotic fluid and blood were discharged. Her pleas for help went ignored until finally she was shackled by wrists and waist, and taken from her cell. Not surprisingly, the developing fetus did not survive the trauma. Unnamed baby Rhodes paid the ultimate price for this abhorrent care provided for their mother. Again, poverty is not a crime, yet we tend to punish those who we think are ‘just not trying hard enough’.
The connection we often don’t see is that life itself is often not the result of worth or having earned it. In many cases, and something we should all feel gratitude for is that our lives- the lives that flourish- far removed from jail cells, poverty and developing countries is largely the result of luck of geography and socioeconomic fortune. We need to embrace all women in all their varying degrees of privilege, and treat them as we would treat our own mothers. The flowers and well wishes these women receive should not be in the form of funeral arrangements and condolences. The world can do better for our women. We won’t stop fighting until all women, mothers and children have equal quality care. We hope you’ll join us.