Dr Cynthia Muang outside the waiting room where mothers await vaccinations for their newborn children
Special Report: Maternal health on the Thai / Myanmar border
Maternal and infant health are two of the great global health challenges of our time. In many developing countries, the mortality rates for women and their babies remain alarmingly high.
A recent UN report reveals that over 4.5 million women and babies die every year during pregnancy, childbirth or the first weeks after birth – equivalent to 1 death every 7 seconds – mostly from preventable causes.
As a comparison in the disparity of mortality rates between just four countries:
- Papua New Guinea – 1 in 26
- Myanmar – 1 in 29
- Thailand – 1 in 142
- Australia – 1 in 20,000
High rates of maternal mortality are also a significant contributor to infant mortality. Newborns are at risk of dying if their mothers fail to survive childbirth.
Many babies in the developing world are also born with low birth weights, leaving them more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea, which can also be life-threatening.
Critical to the solution is empowering women and their families with the education and support to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. This can be as simple as providing financial assistance for transport to a clinic.
That there’s been little improvement in the last several years in these mortality rates, is symbolic of how poverty and a lack of access to basic medical care is having tragic consequences for women and babies every day.
Dr Cynthia is saving lives
Location: Mae Sot, Thai / Myanmar border
The Mae Tao Clinic on the Thai-Myanmar border provides healthcare services to migrants and refugees. It was founded in 1989 by Dr. Cynthia Maung, a Myanmar-born physician who fled the country due to political unrest and persecution.
For over almost 35 years, Dr Cynthia and her team have been saving the lives of women and children. In 2013, Dr Cynthia was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.
The Mae Tao Clinic has become a centre of excellence, with doctors from around the world donating their time and clinical experience to helping save the lives of women and babies, and passing on their knowledge to local doctors and midwives.
Since 2021, the coup by the Myanmar military has created terrible additional challenges for women wanting to cross into Thailand to give birth safely. Regular military incursions into villages have indiscriminately killed hundreds of people. Women are now arriving at the Mae Tao Clinic either pregnant, injured or both.
i=Change’s founder Jeremy Meltzer recently returned to the Mae Tao Clinic after 3 years, and was struck by the number of injured and traumatised people arriving from Myanmar:
Dr Cynthia’s commitment and passion has not waned in the years since we first met. Now, even more, given the state-sanctioned violence in her former country, she is helping communities desperate to escape to the safety of the clinic on the Thai side of the border.
i=Change is committed to supporting NGOs with deep expertise in maternal and infant health, thereby reducing mortality and providing better health outcomes for mothers, children and their communities. As businesses and consumers we can support these extraordinary efforts.
You can be the change, when you shop for change
Story & photography: Jeremy Meltzer