JB talks to Sky TV on Malawi deaths in childbirth

The maternity ward at the only hospital in Mangochi – about 300km from the capital Lilongwe – is so crammed with new mums and mothers-to-be that they are sharing beds, crouched under beds and lining the corridors.

We’ve found it difficult traversing this blanket of humans without stepping on anyone or crushing a tiny newborn.

Malawi’s new and progressive president – only the second female leader in Africa – is on a mission to change all of this.

In one of the rare interviews she has given since she took office about three months ago, Joyce Banda told Sky News: “It’s not just about family planning and giving access to contraception; it’s about empowering women and giving them the economic freedom so they can choose and make decisions about the size of their family which are best for them.”

President Banda; Mission to change

She is talking about the social pressure put on women to produce as many children as possible.

“I ask poor women who have had six, seven, eight children: ‘Why have you had so many when you cannot afford to look after them?’,” the president said.

“And they tell me: ‘Children mean wealth’.

“We have to take an holistic approach to this problem and approach it from all sides.”

It has become a passion for the president who herself almost died in childbirth some years ago.

She was lucky, she said, because she had both money and influence. She is married to a High Court judge who was a good friend of the country’s top gynaecologist.

“So I survived and I am here today and now president,” she said.

“And I promised from that day on I would do all I could for the women of my country.”

She is acutely aware that the global statistics are shocking.

Every year, 350,000 women die every year through pregnancy or childbirth – that is a woman every two minutes.

And Malawi is among the worst. The fertility rate in the country is extraordinarily high – at nearly six children per woman, with nearly half the pregnancies in Malawi being unplanned.

Put that together with the extremely high rate of young, teen pregnancies and the statistics get even worse.

A quarter of pregnancy deaths are among girls between 10 and 19-years-old – the complications increase the younger you are.

An international summit on family planning in London on Wednesday [attended by Malawi Vice President and Minster of Health Khumbo Kachali] was hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The British Government joined forces with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundationto try to give millions of women in the world’s poorest countries – including Malawi – access to what could be lifesaving family planning help.

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