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Gian Luigi Gigli, M.D.
ST. JOHN PAUL’S MATERNITY HOSPITAL, KENYA:
A FIRST TO BE NAMED
April 27, 2014- A maternity hospital in Isiolo, Kenya may be the first hospital in the world to be named after the Pope John Paul II after he is proclaimed a saint this coming Sunday by Pope Francis. The hospital, which serves rural women and children, has been operating for the past year and is the brainchild of Professor Robert Walley of MaterCare International (MCI). In 2005, Walley proposed to the then Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo to name the hospital as a memorial to the late Holy Father John Paul II. The present Bishop Anthony Ireri Mukobo has readily agreed that the hospital be dedicated to the new St. John Paul.
An Answer to a Need
The 91% majority of maternal deaths are preventable by providing essential obstetrics. It is said that abortion is responsible for 9% of the total of maternal deaths. Walley states the Isiolo project is an example of what the organization describes as the “91% Solution”, a comprehensive plan to prevent the majority of maternal deaths.
With transport, a mother with complications can be transferred to the nearest hospital, if there is one. Walley emphasizes the importance of an ambulance and reliable vehicles in rural areas to fulfill this need.
St. John Paul II hospital has a jeep ambulance and two motorcycle ambulances with stretchers which can reach mothers in danger in areas where there are no roads. With this system the hospital has already succeeded in saving mothers’ lives in the area of Merti three hours from Isiolo.
Mothers in villages are looked after by trained traditional birth attendants (TBAs and supervised by trained midwives. Most of the TBAs are illiterate but are intelligent and have some experience. Using cartoons the TBAs can identify by graphics what the dangerous cases are. They are trained to identify high-risk cases for referral to the parish maternity clinic and from there to the MCI St. John Paul’s in the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo by a specially equipped 4 X 4 ambulance.
In 1995 a meeting of an international group of Catholic Obstetricians was convened in Liverpool, England which led to the formal establishment of MaterCare International Canada. The meeting coincided with the appeal, by Pope John Paul II in the Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (EV, The Gospel of Life), for more to be done for life in particular by health professionals.
“To the people of life for life […] to offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.” (EV 6)
“To all health care personnel who have a unique responsibility to be guardians and servants of human life”. (EV 89)
“A specific contribution must come from [...] Universities, Centres, Institutes and Committees of Bioethics and places of scientific and technological research.” (EV 98)
Walley describes how, “In 2005 out of the blue I received an email from a Bishop Luigi Locati, of the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo, Kenya, in which he asked me to undertake a needs assessment regarding the health of mothers in the Vicariate. That was done and I suggested an intervention for a desperate situation which he accepted, which has been developed into Project Isiolo part of which is operational, and includes a 30 bed maternity hospital.
At the same time the Holy Father Pope John Paul II had just died and Bishop Locati agreed that the hospital would be a fitting memorial to him. Little did we know that a tragedy would befall the project when three months later Bishop Locati was murdered. Now the project became a memorial to another bishop who gave his life for his people”.
“We have developed a demonstration project for the Church that challenges, albeit in a small way, the anti-life, and family international community by providing essential obstetrical care based on life and hope”. “It is a gift to His Mother by caring for mothers, babies and their families. Pope John Paul was a friend to Matercare International when he asked the Church to help us, when speaking to us at a private audience in 2001. At the commencement of his pontificate Pope Francis called upon the Church to ‘protect the poor’, mothers are among the poorest of the poor both materially and in spirit.”
The Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Memorial University of St Johns Newfoundland, Canada describes how 330,000 mothers die in pregnancy every year, the vast majority of the causes are easily preventable and 91% occur in the last three months of pregnancy (Lancet 2009).
They occur mainly in sub Saharan Africa. The big difference between the developed and under developed world is in obstetrical risk.
He describes how often mothers die alone, in agony, and exhausted. The maternal mortality rate, which is the number of mother dying in pregnancy each year in the developed world is 1:15,000, whereas in the developing world it is 1:15.
This is one of the scandals of modern medicine. Nobody is asking the question, what happens to mothers? He notes in particular the lack of maternal care in refugee camps. In his own personal professional experience he has never experienced a maternal death.
“Mothers are politically unimportant, they have no voice. There is a lot of violence done against women and children. One of the first rights of women is the right to know the truth. Mothers are being ground to the dust”.
Mothers matter, but do they matter enough? Mothers are women too, but you would not think so these days when so many die giving birth to new life. We need to have a preferential option for mothers. who are among the poorest of the poor both materially and spiritually.
Obstetrical fistulas occur due to obstructed labour and failure to provide caesarean section for obstructed labour is common in sub Saharan Africa. The result is the young mother becomes incontinent of urine and feces a consequence of injury to the bladder and/or rectum. It means a life of discrimination and humiliation, as she is found “offensive” by her community. It may be seen as evidence of infidelity. It is the extreme of lack of dignity. Nobody thinks about the dignity of women. Politicians in the West don’t worry about maternal mortality because it does not happen in their constituency, it only occurs in Africa.
Violence can be done to women by commission, rape, abortion, but also by omission. There has been a great failure by the Western world in this area. The policy seems to not the elimination of maternal mortality but rather the devaluation of motherhood, and population control
A Charter of Maternal Rights
There have been dozens of charters of women’s rights. However, only one charter of maternal rights has been published (1931 in the UK) and has no relevance today. MaterCare International has produced a relevant and contemporary Charter of Maternal Rights for the Third Millennium.
There is a gleam of hope for mothers in the Apostolic Vicariate and the County of Isiolo, through protection of our Great Mother, the intercession of St. John Paul, and the provision of essential obstetrical care.
Dr. Robert Walley
Executive Director, MaterCare International
Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Telephone: +1(709) 579-6472