Yasmin Abedin is a medical student with roots in Bangladesh. She was awarded funding from the Medical Student Support Fund to help her travel to Bangladesh for the first time for charity work.
Maa is a grassroots charity founded by medical students, which focuses on improving maternal health in resource-poor settings across the developing world. JourneyMaa is Maa’s annual project which provides maternal healthcare to hundreds of pregnant women living in rural Bangladesh. A unique collaboration between individuals from the UK and healthcare professionals from Bangladesh is established in order to deliver the best care and education to women. One of the aims is to provide opportunities for pregnant women to receive free health checks. In rural areas with limited access to health care, basic checks (e.g. blood pressure, urinalysis, blood glucose) are vital in detecting conditions such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia; some of the leading causes of maternal deaths in Bangladesh. Following their health checks, mothers then have a consultation with on-site doctors; participate in educational seminars that teach the red flag symptoms of pregnancy, and receive free medication for the duration of their pregnancy, such as folic acid and iron tablets.
“I believe the way to create a mass movement towards positive transformation is to inspire others to act.
In addition to offering free health camps and seminars for mothers, Maa also runs educational seminars for young girls aged 14-16. Its purpose is to tackle the deep-rooted stigma surrounding the topic of menstruation - this is achieved through creating an open space for discussion and educating the girls on menstrual health and hygiene. It was inspiring to hear the thoughts of the girls both before and after the seminars as it highlighted how their confidence had developed when speaking about what is traditionally a taboo topic. Pre-seminar, they were apprehensive and shy when asked about their experience with periods. However, post-seminar, the confident manner in which the young girls were discussing menstrual hygiene was fantastic - I was moved by their enthusiasm for learning and progression. It was particularly impressive that the girls were keen on spreading their knowledge to their mothers and aunts. This emphasised the sustainability of the work Maa is doing as I believe female empowerment through education is a strong tool to make long-lasting and widespread change.
Before this journey, I heard the heart-breaking stories of mothers struggling to access healthcare, mothers not being able to afford vital medication and mothers losing their babies to preventable causes. However, nothing could have prepared me for directly speaking to these women first hand. What struck me was how common it was for the young women to lose children. The emotional strength it must take to overcome such a tragedy is unimaginable. One particular woman that impacted me was Ripa, a 26 year old mother. She told me that she had seven pregnancies, but four of them were miscarried, and two babies passed away within the first two weeks of birth. She had one remaining son aged six that had come with her to the health camp. Whilst the World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of eight antenatal check-ups to reduce perinatal mortality,
“Ripa had not seen any doctors at all during any of her pregnancies. With better maternal healthcare, Ripa’s losses could have been prevented.
In 2018, JourneyMaa helped over 800 lives – 400 women and their unborn children. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that there is still a long way to go, and many mothers have numerous barriers preventing them from having safe and successful pregnancies.
To all those who have given to the Medical Student Support Fund: Thank you for helping me take my first step towards making a positive difference in Bangladesh. I believe the way to create a mass movement towards positive transformation is to inspire others to act. The generosity and support I have received encourages my continued commitment to provide aid and support to those in need, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude and even more determined to continue my work with Maa, helping to revolutionise maternal healthcare.
MBBS Year 6 student, UCL