Inequality in healthcare delivery for mothers and their children is an issue that continues to plague developing regions leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 women every day.
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Inequality in healthcare delivery for mothers and their children is an issue that continues to plague developing regions leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 women every day. The situation is aggravated by the fact that only 66 percent of women in developing countries have access to a midwife, doctor, or nurse during childbirth and more than eight million children die annually pre/post-delivery or during their first week of life.

Whether its difficulties during childbirth or illness in the first years of life, ensuring that mothers and newborns stay alive and healthy in many parts of the world is a significant challenge, but it doesn't have to be. This International Women's Day, I would like to take a moment to honor those on the front lines advocating for maternal and child health every day in their communities like the Madres Tutelares.

Founded in 2005, Madres Tutelares, otherwise known as Resource Mothers is a program in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic based on a Virginia-based home visiting model which was adapted by Physicians for Peace, an international nonprofit organization committed to training local healthcare professionals in developing regions to serve quality care in their communities.

The Resource Mothers are leaders in their communities who work to improve the health of mothers and their babies. They serve as mentors to pregnant teenagers in impoverished barrios and begin weekly home visits as soon as they are identified within the community. They deliver health education and counseling as needed, such as accompanying their clients to the Maternity Hospital for prenatal appointments, workshops, and urgent care. They are often at the hospital for the delivery and begin the neonatal visits within days of the birth.

I have had the pleasure of providing medical education and training to the hardworking and dedicated women of this program. They are a unique group of women with a deep understanding and intimate knowledge of the needs within their community as their clients are also their neighbors. This connection allows us to tailor training for the Resource Mothers that is useful and supportive of the women and children they serve.

I recall one particular Resource Mother, Maria Magdalena, whose gentle voice and sweet smile infused a peaceful sense of calmness to her clients. While watching her talk with a new client, I was keenly aware of how Maria took on a maternal role in explaining the importance of prenatal vitamins. The young mother-to-be listened, nodded her head and then started asking questions. I must admit that I was more than in awe of this interaction. I was witnessing the power of the program

Inspiring change by providing much needed advice and guidance, the Resource Mothers program operates with the underlying goal of setting the young mothers they work with on the path to empowerment. They have been able to encourage young mothers to complete their education and achieve financial independence. For Maria Magdelena, her experience has been wonderful. She shared with me, "It's more than the clients being able to learn from us. I understand that we also learn from these young girls who despite the challenges they face keep moving forward."

In addition to the boundless support they provide to the women and children they serve, the Resource Mothers also empower themselves. Some of them have gone on to further their education like Maria Magdalena, a five-year veteran of the program who is currently finishing law school. Others have inspired the mothers they work with to stabilize their home lives, complete their high school education, and even leave abusive relationships.

Their work does not stop at prenatal care or infant development milestones. In fact, the Resource Mothers are equipped to discuss topics including the importance of receiving a sonogram and blood tests, attending pre-natal visits, breastfeeding, and HIV prevention. To date over 650 pregnant teens and their babies have been served by the Resource Mothers program. With proper care and treatment, maternal and infant deaths can be avoided and the inspirational women of the Resource Mothers program are positive proof that change is possible.

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