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NOW on PBS: Saving Haiti's Mothers

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Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, in addition to leaving lives and institutions in ruin, also exacerbated a much more common and lethal emergency in Haiti: dying during childbirth. Challenges in transportation, education and quality health care contribute to Haiti having the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, a national crisis even before the earthquake struck.

While great strides are being made with global health issues like HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality figures worldwide have seen virtually no improvement in 20 years. Worldwide, more than 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy.

A NOW team that had been working in Haiti during the earthquake reports on this deadly but correctable trend. They meet members of the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF), which operates a network of health agents in more than 100 villages, engaging in pre-natal visits, education and emergency ambulance runs for pregnant women.

The United Nations Population Fund, which trains midwives to share life-saving birth techniques, says that with proper funding, public support and wider application of simple but scarce innovations, such deaths could be reduced by nearly 70 percent.

As humanitarian attention on Haiti slowly fades, the issue of maternity mortality remains as imperative as ever. But with an estimated 63,000 women in Haiti currently pregnant — and a main midwife training school devastated by the earthquake — the mission of keeping mothers alive has never been more daunting.

NOW co-produced this program with the Bureau for International Reporting.

Watch the full program online.

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