Pregnant mothers join WaterAid to shine a light on global maternal health crisis with evocative stunt

WaterAid created an evocative light installation outside one of Britain’s first maternity hospitals featuring the silhouettes of pregnant women to show how every two seconds, a woman gives birth in a health centre without clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

The striking projection of water droplets behind three expectant mothers, highlighted a shocking reality. Every year 16.6 million women give birth in hospitals and clinics without adequate water, toilets and soap, putting them and their unborn babies at risk of deadly infection.

WaterAid’s installation was part of the charity’s Water Means Life appeal which aims to bring clean water to health centres in Mozambique and around the world. As the January evening closed in, the mothers stood in darkness in front of London’s General Lying-In Hospital, as an act of solidarity with the millions of pregnant women worldwide who face the injustice of giving birth in unhygienic conditions. More than one million deaths each year are associated with unclean births, while infections account for 26% of neonatal deaths and 11% of maternal mortality.

A quarter of health centres around the world do not have clean water on site, almost half are without adequate handwashing facilities, and four out of five in the poorest countries lack decent toilets. As a result, many expectant mothers have no choice but to collect their own water, carrying dangerously heavy buckets that put them and their babies at risk of falls and other injuries.

In Zomba, Malawi, expectant mother Mary, 31, is painfully aware of the dangers of lack of access to clean water:

“My third born died when he was one year and three months old due to diarrhoea. That time, we did not have a borehole in this village. The water source we were depending on… [was] contaminated.” Thanks to WaterAid, Mary’s village now has access to a borehole. Mary added, “I believe if we had this borehole back then, I would not have lost my son.”

Despite their best efforts, it is near impossible for healthcare workers to protect their own health and provide safe maternity care without the basics of clean water and soap.

In Mwogo Health Centre, in Rwanda’s Bugesera district, midwife Devota Byukusenge often sees female patients with diarrhoea, genital infections and skin diseases, which she attributes to the dirty water they collect from swamps to drink/cook/clean.

Devota explains:

“For a midwife with no water in maternity services you can imagine what we go through. Everything is at risk, be it the mother, the newborn; everyone is at risk of getting infected because of the lack of water.”

WaterAid’s light installation is a timely reminder of the global health emergency faced by women and babies, and the risks they face from life-threatening infections. But with clean water, sanitation and good hygiene in every health centre, these risks can be drastically reduced.

Players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting WaterAid’s work to provide clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in health centres around the world, transforming the lives of mothers like Valéria. Talking about her experience of giving birth to baby Pierpina at Mecanhelas Health Centre, Niassa Province in Mozambique, Valéria said:  

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive for WaterAid, said:

It is staggering that every two seconds a woman gives birth in a health centre without clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene – that’s a massive 16.6 million each year who are facing this needless threat to their lives.

“WaterAid’s light installation is a stark reminder of the importance of clean water and toilets for good maternal and newborn health. Pregnancy and childbirth is already dangerous for many women and babies. Without clean water and the associated health risks, they can be deadly.

“Our Water Means Life Appeal is raising funds to help turn the tide on this injustice. By championing clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in all health centres around the world we can help save lives and give women and babies a better chance of a healthy future.”

Donate to the Water Means Life Appeal:

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