August 14

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Saving Every Child’s Life

The most dangerous period in a child’s life is during birth and shortly thereafter. One Filipino child per thirty births die before reaching age five. In the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao, a shocking one in ten children die before the age of five.

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Most of these deaths occur because basic healthcare is not available or too far away to easily reach. Most tragically, these children are dying of largely preventable illnesses like measles, diarrhea, malaria and birth complications. ‘The Philippines is one of forty two countries that account for ninety percent of children’s deaths worldwide’, according to published research by Save The Children.

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This week I had the honor to visit our GSK Funded Project in Mindanao with Ali and two doctors from Save The Children. This partnership with Save The Children is truly saving lives thru scientific innovation. Through community partners such as Glaxo Smith Kline, Save works on the ground preventing such diseases and saving lives.

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The project hopes to inspire breakthroughs to reach more pregnant mothers. It provides them access to pre natal care, as GSK trained health workers go door to door for healthcare visits. I met Brana, a midwife of twenty eight years, who often bikes twenty plus kilometers to provide prenatal care to needy moms in distant communities.

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Mothers are also advised on monitoring themselves for labor signs, etc. The birthing centers are available for labor and delivery. Then, infants are followed to ensure key immunizations are provided.

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Laws were recently passed to made it illegal to birth at home. A family is accessed a two thousand peso fine if delivery isn’t done at a birthing center. The local mayor told me that the law is scaring mothers so they are more likely to go to a birthing center.

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This program reaches some of the most vulnerable children. These include poor children from rural communities, indigenous tribal families, those affected by armed conflict and out-of-school youth. The real beauty is the ability to track these children from pre birth throughout their childhood.

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I will introduce you to the centers, their staff and the families helped by the project. They were excited to share their vision and success over a lovely lunch.

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The effective strategies are working, despite the incredible poverty I observed. I found it so rewarding to witness our company values in action and interview the people helped. Awareness is also needed of areas where greater investments are needed.

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The birthing center has a certified mid wife and nurse present at all times. If an emergency arises, the pregnant mother is transferred to a nearby hospital just a few minute five kilometer drive away.

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There is a labor room where the mom can wait with her family. The staff is nearby to monitor her progress and offer reassurance. Pain meds are not available for labor, and the average labor once at the center is two to three hours. This short laboring period is partly due to the difficult travel a mother may have to get to the center.

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Once birth is eminent, the mother is transferred to the delivery room. Sometimes, multiple births are occurring at the same time here. Forty six births were done here in July, and the range spans from thirty to fifty six per month.

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I heard a harrowing story from this nurse. He told of a mother who arrived in active labor. No ultrasound had been done so the staff was surprised to learn during delivery she was pregnant with twins. After the first birth, her abdomen was still raised and hard. Soon after, a second head emerged.

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Typically, the Center does not accommodate the higher risk delivery of twins, as this is better managed at the local hospital. In this case, there wasn’t a choice. These twin girls were the first for the birthing staff, and thankfully went home eight hours later, healthy.

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This lovely midwife delivered her first baby last week. Everything went well and the baby boy was healthy and well nourished at birth. She chose this profession after having a sibling die during childbirth at home.

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I also spoke to a laboring mother. Initially keeping my distance to respect her privacy in labor, she called me over to share her story.

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Her first baby was born at home. Terrified, as her husband was at work, she largely managed the birth alone. This labor was more relaxed as she felt reassured by the staff and had the support of her husband.

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Tragically, I witnessed first hand what can go wrong without healthcare. This lovely girl is a fifteen year old mother of two. Her marriage was arranged at age twelve and a first child was delivered within the year.

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As the birth occurred at home, Mercie almost bled to death. Unfortunately without having access to immunizations, her baby passed away within the year of measles. Fast forward two years, she is holding a healthy year old baby boy. The GSK funded birthing center accommodated her prenatal care, labor, childbirth, and provided vaccinations for the newborn.

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Matricia is a mother of four. She was relocated here from a more dangerous area of Mindanao where rebels threatened her Muslim community, raping women and forcing boys into militant groups. She gave birth to a child at home there. Having no access to care, the baby was born malnourished and displays stunted growth as a permanent side effect.

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Here, her husband has a job harvesting and life is peaceful without MI threats. Her family can eat three times a day. Her other children have been birthed at a Save The Children Center. I held her beautiful infant boy. He was a healthy smiling bundle of joy. Her husband also shared his happiness with the health care center. He makes decisions for his wife’s health and children’s care. He can see how his three younger children are much healthier and nourished well.

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Mothers can walk from their homes to the immunization clinic. There was a line of moms waiting for their children to be vaccinated.

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Visiting this project was very emotional for me. I felt for these women and empathised with them as a mom myself. I couldn’t imagine giving birth alone without medical help. Much less, helplessly watching my child die.

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I feel I have gotten so much more back thru volunteering to help others.

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I felt so proud to be working for GSK with Save The Children. Together, we are on the road to saving one million children’s lives.

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Andrew Witty really had a brilliant vision in starting the Pulse Program. Not only is it a great opportunity for individuals like me to experience global healthcare crises up close and personal, it fosters Pulse volunteers to build awareness for other employees. Our company is truly living its values in partnership with key NGO’s. It’s one thing to say, but another to personally see. GSK Is Helping More People To Do More, Feel Better and Live Longer.

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