Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Traditional Wisdom

We all know how alties are big on "traditional wisdom" - what they consider the time-tested and true way to holistic health and happiness. This is invariably juxtaposed with "Western" medicine as an evil, child-killing pharmaceutical conspiracy interested solely in money.

Joanna Moorehead in The Guardian recently looked at pregnancy and childbirth in two countries, Sweden and Niger.

Statistically, Dahara, who is 26, has a one-in-seven chance of dying during her reproductive years as a result of a pregnancy-related complication or infection, or childbirth injury. Her baby son, lying here on the table, has a 15% chance of not reaching his first birthday and a one-in-six chance of not making it to the age of five. And Dahara is fortunate to have had the skills of a midwife like the cheerful Insa: across the country, only 16% of deliveries are attended by anyone with any training at all.

That's in Niger. In contrast,

the dangers for Swedish women are minuscule in comparison with the risks for mothers in Niger. Carmen's chance of dying as a result of childbirth over her lifetime is one in 29,800 (Dahara's, remember, was just one in seven). The risk of Tess dying in her first year is one in 333. In Sweden, 100% of births are attended by a skilled, trained midwife. Overall, it is the safest place in the world to become a mother.

Women in Niger are expected to remain silent during childbirth, fathers do not attend the birth, and colostrum is not given to newborn babies.

Breastfeeding, for example, saves many babies: but the tradition here is that mothers don't give colostrum, the first milk, because it looks yellow and they think it's bad. Once you get the message across that this is the best milk, that it can protect their babies from disease, they get on with it and give it.

Which is hardly the health paradise the alties think the modern world is preventing us all from enjoying.

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