Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

The State of the South African Mother

For the average South African mother-to-be, access to good quality prenatal healthcare is not a given. By Anneke Jagau

I would like to introduce you to Jenny. When I met her she was sitting in a hospital bed. She was looking down and her hand was stroking the little head that was peeking out of her hospital gown, as she was kangarooing her little daughter. Born too soon, too young and too fragile to survive the danger of the world outside of the safety of the womb on her own. The moment that she felt water dripping down her legs at 26 weeks, she knew that she would be on a different journey to the one she’d previously imagined.

Her daughter had proven to be a little fighter. As soon as she was strong enough she was tied skin-to-skin on her mother’s chest. There, close to her mother, was the safest place to be. Jenny’s warmth kept little Zoe warm, and her love kept little Zoe alive. That was what kept her going. But it was not easy. Back at home where her other three children, whom she had not seen in weeks. There was no money for them to come and visit her in the hospital. She was worried about them – she felt guilty for not being able to be the mother that they needed her to be. Her husband was a truck driver and he was often away, leaving the other children in the care of their neighbor. They had no other option. She felt grateful for the good care she was getting, but she was also lonely and prayed every day that God would make little Zoe grow stronger so that they could go home soon.

Photo Credit: Fabio Trifoni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Fabio Trifoni via Compfight cc

Every day in South Africa, more than 2700 babies are born – almost two babies born every minute. After most births, mom and baby are healthy and everybody is happy. However, that is not always the case. Jenny’s story is not uncommon in South Africa. According to United Nations estimates, every day in South Africa, 230 mothers are confronted with a story similar to Jenny’s – their baby is born prematurely. 23 of these mothers will see their babies die. Every day, 55 mothers lose their newborn babies; 62 families are confronted with a stillbirth; and in 2010, 250 mothers died while giving birth. These numbers, as well as numbers concerning income and education, make South Africa number 77 on a list of 176 countries in the Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report – a report that came out in the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

Our country is not the worst place to be for a mother, however, not everybody has access to the good quality of care that is available in South Africa. Many mothers don’t have the money to transport themselves to a place where they can get a high standard of care, and many hospitals and clinics are understaffed and insufficiently supplied. This leads to deaths that could have been avoided if the health system was more equally divided and efficiently managed.

After reading these statistics you may be feeling paralyzed. I certainly do feel that way whenever I hear information like this. The numbers are overwhelming and sobering. There are so many families being confronted with tragic losses. But there is hope, as most causes of maternal and neonatal death require fairly simple strategies and interventions to prevent. If the Ministry of Health coordinates these changes – like equal access to emergency care, infection prevention and timely treatment, as well as resuscitation training for everybody who works in a labour ward, the number of deaths could be substantially lowered.

But what can we do? First of all – pray. Pray for our government, and that they can make the right decisions. Pray for the doctors and nurses, that God will give them the strength needed to deal with very challenging circumstances they face on a daily basis. And lastly, pray for the mothers who are pregnant or taking care of their little ones – that they may have access to the kind of care they need so that they can see their child grow up to be healthy and happy. You can also join teams that visit hospitals and spend time with the moms like Jenny. You can knit hats and bring them to a labour wards, and your handiwork will keep the babies warm. If you are a breastfeeding mum, you can go to and learn how your milk can help other moms and their babies. Like any other problem the numbers can be overwhelming, but giving the number a face will enable you to become part of the solution.

Anneke is involved with the Micah Challenge – a movement of passionate, yet ordinary Christians who are standing together to hold the world’s leaders accountable to their promises. Visit for more info.

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