The Cruel World of Birth Lottery

Last Monday an interesting series of documentaries called  Why Poverty? started on BBC (FYI: also broadcasted by YLE in Finland). The first film was called Welcome 2 the World – 4 Born Every Second. As the title suggests, the film was about babies, their mothers in different parts of the world, and their struggle of survival in circumstances that carry the highest risk of maternal and child mortality.

The film tells a story of pregnant women living in poverty in countries such as Sierra Leone, Cambodia, the US, and UK. Even thinking about the stillborn babies, complications and suffering presented still brings tears to my eyes. This is probably one of the most depressing, and yet, one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen.

According to the UN and WHO, 800 women die annually from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, due to lack of skilled medical staff, resources, or knowledge on reproductive health. The causes of death most commonly are bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, or unsafe abortion. 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in the developing world, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are three million infants that die annually in addition to 2.6 million stillbirths. Within countries, the poorest women and their children in rural areas carry a higher risk of death than others.

These problems still exist, since there are not enough money to organise sufficient family planning services and education in many countries. The level of the family planning funds has declined between 2000 and 2008, according to the UN, despite tho growing need for help. Although maternal mortality has dropped worldwide by almost 50 percent between 1990 and 2010, more funds are needed to help the most deprived areas.

The film brought alive the facts described above. There were two stories that struck me the most. First, there was a pregnant Cambodian mother, infected by HIV, taking care of her biological son and a younger adopted girl.Their only mean of survival was to send the son to collect garbage (instead of going to school) to get money to feed the family. Finally, she gives birth to her new baby, Ly Ly and her 12-year-old son makes a commitment to continue collecting garbage, so that his sisters could go to school and eventually have a better life. However, two months after her birthday, Ly Ly dies. This allows the mother to go work in a construction site, and thus her son gets to go to school. The brutality of the situation really struck me. The youngest member of the family had to die to allow the others to have a little bit better chance in life.

The second thing that opened my eyes was a story about 22-year-old Londoner, who was a single mom for a girl and a boy, who had different fathers. Despite the lack of help from the boy’s father, she was able to provide food, shelter and an education for her family. Despite the fact that in the UK she might be considered poor, the chances of her children to live a normal life were many times better than any of the other children in the film. She was the only mother in the film saying that she has everything she needs and that she is happy.

I’m not trying to say that inequalities do not exist in the Western world, since that would not be true. The point I’m trying to make is that despite the problems that always exist no matter what we do, inequalities can be reduced to a lot smaller level than what we experience worldwide right now. It is just a matter of political decisions and allocation of resources. We should be more willing to share. Improving the condition of young children and their families is a good place to start.

I recommend watching the film (please see the links below).


UN Millenniun Development Goal reports 2010 and 2012 (PDF)
WHO Maternal Mortality fact sheet, May 2012
WHO Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010 (PDF)