11 May 2012
Mother's Day, which is observed this Sunday in the USA along with many other countries, is a day to celebrate the gift of life we have been given and the women who gave us that gift. But amongst all the cards and commercialisation, Mother’s Day for me is always tinged with sadness as I remember one specific night at a hospital in a low income country when three young mothers were brought in dead on arrival. One after the other they arrived, dead with their infants from completely preventable causes, mainly obstructed labour, that would not have caused the death of a woman in a wealthier country.
I want to make two points for Mother’s Day:
Firstly, mothers and their infants are dying in labour because of diabetes. Diabetes is an important and often overlooked maternal health issue. Whether those deaths are caused by unmanaged type 1 or 2 diabetes or from gestational diabetes, we can put an end to this tragic loss of life. We don't know how many women are affected but the numbers are likely to be significant. And the impact of the death of a mother for her infant, her children, her husband and her community cannot be calculated. Nobody should ever think that those lost mothers are less precious than our own.
Secondly, improved maternal health can prevent diabetes. Children – even before they are born – are put on the road to ill-health and disease. The health of your mother before and during her pregnancy has increased or decreased your own risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as an adult. And the same may even be true for your grandmother.
So what does this mean? For policy makers the message is simple. Every mother counts. No matter what the cause, every preventable death is a violation of human rights and is an outrage. All preventable maternal deaths are personally and politically unacceptable. I ask political, business, media, NGO, and community leaders to look into the facts of maternal death and diabetes in their communities. Ask questions about how many, why and what could have been done. No pregnant woman need die from diabetes. Despite diabetes being so closely intertwined with maternal health, the global development agenda remains skewed, and diabetes and NCDs remain ignored. With the end date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) drawing closer, policy makers have an unprecedented opportunity to put that right.
And what does this mean for mothers? It means that every mother counts and every mother makes a difference. When empowered with the right information, education, health care and nutrition, every mother can take steps to ensure she has a healthy pregnancy and improve the life chances of her child. And beyond pregnancy, often as the gatekeepers of household nutrition and lifestyle, mothers have a special influence on dietary patterns and prospects of health of children and adolescents. In low- and middle-income countries, the challenges remain immense for mothers, but IDF is committed to changing this and empowering women to be leaders in the fight to prevent diabetes.
Investing in the health of women and children is the right thing to do. Every mother is precious and every healthy mother will help stop the spread of the diabetes epidemic to the next generation.