We stand for healthy families. But how can you have a healthy family and a healthy culture when the mothers and children are dying in record numbers? Yes, it’s true that Tibetans and other minorities in China live in very low population density. But there are over 40 million of them in China –including Uighurs, Kazaks and Mongols-- who have lack of access to quality health care. That's more people than live in Spain.
There’s a direct correlation between the dramatic health levels –especially the world-record-high infant and maternal mortality stats-- and access to quality health care in places like Qinghai. A nomadic or farming mother in Yushu Prefecture stands a 1-in-15 chance of dying during pregnancy or delivery. There are a lot of orphanages in Tibetan areas, makes sense, because the mothers die and orphanages are downstream results of maternal mortality. Our goal is to up-end that through creating greater access to health services and increasing the quality of the services that are already there. This is the heart of the Surmang model.
We have changed the odds for mothers and babies, by eradicating maternal mortality in our own catchment and significantly lowering infant mortality. What is the cost? Our estimate is about $225/birth. I think you could say ‘this is the cost of not having children and mothers die. But what is the cost when then do die?’ It can’t be photographed; it can’t be quantified. This is where the international community of supporters comes in.
As a health care strategy, building local capacity is the answer. This spring, Janis Tseyong-jee, with help from Surmang Foundation, graduated from Tulane University with an MPH. Janis is now one of the very few Tibetans with an MPH. Janis has volunteered for our foundation every year for the past 6 years. This year she made the transition from one of the principal assistants in the CHW (Community Health Worker) program to a vital role as a designer and implementer.
The CHW program is one of the two pillars of our Surmang Prototype – creating assisted births through home-based health care. This July and August, Janis trained over 30 Surmang CHWs, and paid their incentives for training, assisting in birth, well-baby checks and referrals to our clinic. In addition for the second year, we were able to extend CHW training in the townships and villages in our government partnership catchment. Our goal is to have over 400 CHWs. It’s hard to put into words the real-world challenges that Janis, Dr. Drogha and Dr. Phuntsok face when a program like this is implemented. Just getting all these CHWs in one place for training is one such challenge. Getting to the place where we do the training is another –roads are not paved, and in the summer monsoon season, frequently washed out. But the support and determination on the part of our staff and the CHW trainees more than compensates for these obstacles.
As we know, Tibetan culture is under enormous pressures – cultural, political, and economic. Most we cannot do much about. Remoteness and geographic challenges are as serious as any – keeping women and children far away from services. But, as we’ve shown over 20 years, these health challenges are amenable to change. We are on the cutting edge of what people can do in such challenging conditions, but we are not extra-system. We want to transplant this model inside the public health system. In late July, we met with the government – they support our work, just as we support putting our model in the public health system. At our summer meeting with the Director of the Yushu Public Health Bureau we just about received a standing ovation when I said, “if you want to save a culture, save a mother.” Please join this cause.