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Valuing Life Part 1: Before we are born — Maternal and neonatal health

Midwife Marie Manga Dikoma uses a Pinard horn to listen to the heartbeat of Cecile Iatu's unborn baby at The United Methodist Church's Irambo Health Center in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Midwife Marie Manga Dikoma uses a Pinard horn to listen to the heartbeat of Cecile Iatu's unborn baby at The United Methodist Church's Irambo Health Center in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Jesus said, “I came so that they could have life — indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest” (John 10:10, CEB). United Methodists value human life, from pregnancy and maternal care before we are born to our closing breaths.

God created all of us to thrive and be well. God’s vision for abundance creates conditions that allow all people to thrive and live out the fullness of their days. United Methodists want to help all people live into God’s vision of abundance.

And that begins by ensuring that pregnant women and mothers around the globe, especially in the most underserved areas, have access to the care they need for themselves and their unborn and born children.

Ensuring that access involves both hands-on health care ministries and advocacy for better access to maternal health, worldwide.

Hands-On Maternal and Neonatal Health

Healthy Women, Healthy Liberia” is an ongoing program in rural Margibi County, Liberia, to care for communities as whole by providing for the health of the women there. A critical part of that program is weekly visits by trained community health workers with supportive care for those who are pregnant or have recently given birth.

Hope Center of Latvia is a home for young, single mothers, providing up to a three month stay through the latter part of pregnancy and into the early weeks after delivery. The home provides food, shelter, safety, and supportive care to help young mothers support themselves and their families by the time they complete their stay.

Integrated Community Programs for Maternal and Child Health in Kissy, Sierra Leone, actively reaches out to late-term pregnant women and mothers of all children up to 52 months to provide medical, nutritional and growth assessments, immunizations, and connection to health care facilities.

As part of the Maternal and Child Health Pilot Projects: Cambine Hospital/Clinic, Mozambique, missionary Florence Kaying is a nurse practitioner serving as a maternity and child health care specialist. Her work, begun in 2016, brings needed expertise in maternal and early childhood medical care to this highly underserved area.

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The United Methodist Church values life at all stages. Photos by Mike DuBose; graphic by Laurens Glass, United Methodist Communications. 
United Methodists worldwide seek to bring abundant life to people at every stage through the hands on ministries we support and the advocacy we do.

The region served by the Manjama United Methodist Health Center in a rural area of southern Sierra Leone has experienced below average vaccination rates for many preventable diseases and high rates of maternal and infant mortality because of poor access to proper medical screening, bed nets, and treatments for malaria. While the health center seeks to provide for a variety of medical needs, its efforts are aimed at increasing maternal and early childhood health and decreasing maternal, infant, and early childhood mortality.

The Old Mutare Hospital Family and Child Health Unit project focuses specifically on increasing the capacity of this hospital in Zimbabwe to offer inpatient and outpatient services to laboring women, babies and young children. Also, in East Zimbabwe, the Medical Clinics Revitalization program is adding extra beds and medical capacity to care for pregnant women and newborns to reduce maternal and infant mortality in the region.

The Red Bird Clinic Community Health program provides education and basic health services in one of the poorest and most medically underserved areas in Kentucky — where the nearest hospital is 45 minutes away — targeting the reversal of some of the most dramatic health disparities in the area, including an infant mortality rate twice the state average. Its educational work builds on the expansion of Medicaid in 2014 by encouraging pregnant women and mothers of young children to access health care available and now affordable in their communities.  

Though United Methodists do not have congregations in Ghana, we support a project across 20 rural communities, “Increasing Access to Quality Healthcare,” including emergency medical services for pregnant women, increasing neonatal care, and ensuring regular gynecological visits for pregnant women and women generally. Similarly, while United Methodists have no congregations in Nicaragua, we support the Integrated Women's Health Program of the Women and Community Program in San Francisco Libre, Nicaragua. This program offers both health care and education through a dedicated nurse-educator for pregnant teenagers and their children. It seeks to enhance female empowerment and reduce teen pregnancy.

Advocacy for Maternal and Neonatal Health

Maternal Health: The Church’s Role” is the Church’s primary statement grounding the denomination’s advocacy for improved care for pregnant women and newborns. United Methodists engage in advocacy based on this statement worldwide with the goal of increasing health for women and newborns and reducing maternal and infant mortality. While maternal death because of complications during pregnancy has declined from 1990-2012 by 30% worldwide, this remains far under the worldwide goal of a reduction of 75% by 2015. Meanwhile, maternal mortality has been increasing in the developed world, including in the United States, where it has doubled since 1987.

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United Methodists understand that the causes of maternal and infant mortality are largely preventable. This means there is ongoing need for advocacy to change policies, including ensuring more society-level funding of maternal and infant health needs to address health needs of pregnant women and newborns. Among the leading causes are limited access to health care because of cost or distance, lack of availability of family planning and contraception, inadequate education about the importance of spacing births, societal and familial pressure to produce children, and the age of marriage and childbearing. Most of these causes can be addressed at low cost. What is needed is the will and commitment both to address them and to keep advocating for needed resources and leadership until they are addressed. 

The General Board of Church and Society equips United Methodists to engage in such advocacy, worldwide, through its Maternal Health Initiative. The Initiative involves a three-prong strategy of training advocates who then engage in both legislative and grassroots advocacy. Susan Burton directs the training and strategic deployment of maternal health ambassadors worldwide. And, in 2022, GBCS created and deployed a campaign leading up to Mother’s Day, “Saving Mother’s Live: A Call to Action.” Campaign resources remain available at the GBCS website.

Through hands-on ministries and advocacy worldwide, United Methodists continue to demonstrate our commitment to valuing life and health for all, including pregnant women and newborns, every day.

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