Return to Stories

How Babies Are Made

When Agnes Lunkembesa gave birth to her ninth child, she decided enough was enough. But although she knew perfectly well how babies were made, she had no idea how to stop them being made.

Then she met Seraphine Lumfuankenda, a voluntary community health worker who walks 60 kilometres every week, going from village to village in the hills of south-western Democratic Republic of the Congo, offering advice about family planning and basic health care.

Agnes listened to what Seraphine told her, took her advice, and four years after the birth of her ninth child she has had no more. Outside her home, Seraphine leads her neighbours in a song, conducting vigorously with packets of contraceptives in each hand. Look at any table of the world's poorest countries, and you will find DRC at the bottom. It's one of Africa's biggest countries -- about two-thirds the size of western Europe -- but it has been ravaged by internal wars and conflicts for decades. It should be one of Africa's richest nations -- with more than 70 per cent of the world's deposits of coltan, used to make vital components of mobile phones, 30 per cent of the world's diamond reserves and vast deposits of cobalt, copper and bauxite. But its mineral wealth has fuelled conflict and corruption -- little of the wealth has been used for the benefit of the rural poor, and the country's health system is woefully inadequate.

Women who give birth to too many children are far more likely to die in childbirth than those with smaller families. That's why international health organisations like the UN Population Fund, working as part of H4+ (made up of UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, WHO, and the World Bank), put so much effort into spreading the message about family planning.
Thousands of women may well owe their lives to the health care that's now available thanks to international assistance. When world leaders set out an ambitious list of Millennium Development Goals in 2000, one of their pledges was to reduce maternal mortality rates by three-quarters by 2015. On current trends, they are still well short of their target. According to the UN, 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every day -- repeat, every day -- and the vast majority of them are in the world's poorest countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Full text by Robin Lustig is available. Please contact us for details.
powered by