Bangladesh has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world. Children are most likely to die in their first month of life. In this television documentary produced for the BBC we follow two young women in Bangladesh who face very different experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care. While Marjana only receives support from a traditional dai (midwife), Rashida is lucky enough to live close to a modern health clinic. This is a very moving account of child birth and the terrible consequences of lack of proper care and ignorance in one of the world’s poorest countries. Marjana lives in a remote part of the north-east Bangladesh and is expecting for second child.
Like most women in Bangladesh, Marjana will have her baby with only the help of a traditional birth attendant or dhai. Poverty and lack of access to medical facilities means that this is her only feasible option – the nearest hospital is two and a half hours away. The dhais are the only choice for most women – in Bangladesh over 90% of women will give birth at home, most without the help of trained medical staff. It is one of the most dangerous places in the world to have a baby. The only tools the dhai uses are a razor blade and a piece of string to tie the umbilical cord. If there were any complications during the birth, such as haemorrhage or obstructed labour, the the dhai could do little to help.
Marjana is encouraged to wretch by having her hair pushed down her throat and burning chilli is brought for Marjana to inhale. the dhai favours a quick delivery, as a long labour could bring difficulties that she would not be able to cope with. Within a few hours Marjana has given birth to a baby girl. In keeping with tradition for the birth of a girl, the placenta is buried inside the house and traditional rituals follow – the baby’s first meal is honey and the dhai stretches the child’s limbs to encourage strength and growth. But the ordeal for Marjana’s baby is not yet over, she now faces the most vulnerable month of her life. Every year 4 million babies die during the first month of life – 2 million in the first day alone. Without access to immunisations and basic medical care this little girl will have to fend for herself against many potentially fatal childhood illnesses.