Every day, more than 1,000 women across the globe die due to pregnancy and birthing injuries. Through Panzi Hospital in the Congo, Sweden supports the work with giving women qualified maternal health care in a country where women's lives and health are not highly valued.
The lack of proper maternal health care also results in a much greater risk of suffering serious injuries. This type of complication is a fistula, which occurs when the wall between the vagina and the bladder is damaged, for example, during a difficult childbirth or a sexual assault. The woman starts to leak urine, which leads to social exclusion and prevents her from living a normal life.
Bertha Mbile suffered from a fistula when giving birth and was forced to stay indoors for ten years after having a child. The flow of urine was impossible to control.
"To find out that I had a fistula was like a knife in the back. I had no social life and was not worth anything. However, at the Panzi Hospital, they did all they could to help me," she says.
Childbirth injuries are common in the Congo and occur with prolonged and difficult births, or incorrectly performed Caesarean sections. These problems can often be prevented if competent midwives and doctors are at hand. However, with badly-performed procedures, the damage instead can become chronic.
The women are the Congo's most valuable resource through the scale of their work efforts. There are, however, few who have a voice. The lack of qualified maternal health care also inhibits the entire societal development.
At the Panzi Hospital, there is the expertise needed to operate on fistula injuries and hundreds of women have been healed.
Bertha tells of how she regained her dignity and came to realise her rights. Still, many of their sisters continue to live in shame and isolation.
"When I got my health back, I made an immediate decision. I would begin working with maternal health care and help others," she says.
The Hospital specialises in fistula operations and works also with preventative measures and the education of health care staff. In order to reduce maternal mortalities, education in family planning and professional health care before, during and after the pregnancy is necessary. With skilled health care staff, it is possible to determine at an early stage if childbirths fall into the risk category. The work is led by Doctor Denis Mukwege, who has devoted his life to giving a voice to the women of the Congo. Today, he is a multiple award-winning and internationally acclaimed voice of opinion.
"We cannot be indifferent. They have not chosen their situation, but we have a choice – to show compassion," he says.