Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 32

Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Maternal and Child Health

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, every single year in the developing world more than 500,000 women die in childbirth. Over a year has passed since Canada made a pledge to champion maternal and childhood health at the G8 Summit held in Canada. Although some progress has been made to save lives, a lot still needs to be done. Canada cannot walk away now. Let me tell you why.

A short time ago, my assistant, Rahmat Kassam, and I had the opportunity to visit a maternity clinic in Africa. Although Rahmat and I had done a lot of research and work on maternal health and were quite familiar with the harsh realities that confront women in developing countries, nothing could prepare us for what we saw. After walking into the maternity ward in one of the clinics we visited, we saw that the facilities were so crowded that each bed had to be shared by at least three women.

When we inquired whether women who were HIV/AIDS positive were separated from the women who were not, we learned that, in an effort to avoid stigmatization, they were not. As a result, there was a chance that women could contract the disease while receiving treatment at the clinic.

In addition, each woman was required to bring with them a Mama Kit, which would include a candle, a piece of plastic for the mother to sit on, sutures and gloves. Any woman who came to the clinic without a kit was sent home.

We also learned that there was no electricity or water at the clinic for three weeks, as the government had not paid the bills. This meant that every night an average of 20 births would occur by candlelight.

During our time at the clinic, we met Theresa. We listened helplessly while she screamed in response to the pain she was feeling from her contractions. She called out, but was all alone, as there was no space for a relative to be by her side. When we returned the next morning with heavy hearts, we saw Theresa holding her beautiful baby girl. She informed us that she gave birth that night by candlelight and that the nurse had great difficulty inserting sutures in the dark. However, none of that mattered to Theresa, as she now had a healthy baby. Even though the facilities were less than ideal, it was far better than the alternative, which would have been to deliver in her home.

Maternal life is a human right, I am proud that Canada has chosen to lead the way in ensuring that maternal and infant mortality rates are reduced in the developing world.

Honourable senators, I know you will agree with me that we need to renew our commitment to maternal health to ensure that we continue to work hard in order to achieve the goals we set out at the G8 conference.