Ramadan is one of the most significant month’s in the Muslim calendar. It is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is a time filled with great rewards for Muslims across the world. Along with fasting from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are also encouraged to give a percentage of their wealth to charity.

According to figures from the Charity Commission, Muslims gave around £100million in 2016 during the month of Ramadan and this Ramadan seems to be equally as generous.

There are many great charitable projects that need urgent help, locally, nationally and internationally. One local woman reached out to us, to tell us more about Penny Appeal’s Fragile Lives Project

Samia Aziz, is project manager for Penny Appeal’s Fragile Lives campaign and has been working to support the most fragile and vulnerable mothers and babies in Pakistan and Kenya. Her project Fragile Lives has also been granted UK Aid Match which is a grant from the government whereby every donation is matched pound for pound, up to £2 million. For Penny Appeal, this means every donation for the upcoming Fragile Lives appeal will be DOUBLED, up to £2 million.

Asian Sunday caught up with Samia to find out more about the project

Tell us a little bit about the Fragile Lives project

Fragile Lives is a project which seeks to address some of the most pressing issues regarding maternal, new-born and child health and nutrition across some of the most vulnerable parts of rural Pakistan and Kenya. Reports reveal that Pakistan and Kenya have some of the worst maternal mortality ratios in the world, and Pakistan has recently been declared one of the most dangerous places to be a mother. With 400,000 babies dying before their first birthday each year in Pakistan alone, Penny Appeal has launched this project to provide life-saving medical and nutrition services to help reduce these statistics and tackle the root causes. The project is supported by the UK Government’s Aid Match scheme, which means that every £ we raise will be doubled by the government, enabling us to make double the impact and reach even more people in Pakistan and Kenya.

Why Pakistan and Kenya?

Pakistan and Kenya, and in particular the rural areas where we will be focussing on have some absolutely horrific statistics when it comes to health indicators generally, and especially so with maternal and child health. The number of women needlessly dying in pregnancy or childbirth are among the worst in the world, as is the number of babies dying from preventable causes in the first three months of their lives. We will be working in rural communities that have been facing drought for a number of years, and have major challenges when it comes to poverty, employment, education and access to healthcare services. The communities are based in desert and savannah regions with no infrastructure such as schools or hospitals, as well as poor roads and transport links. This means there is both an absence of vital healthcare facilities with trained doctors and professional staff, as well as challenges in terms of movement and access. Approximately 75% of all infant deaths in Pakistan happen in the first three months of life, and many of those within the first 28 days. They are often from preventable causes such as a lack of immunisation, infection at the time of delivery and malnutrition.

What are the different components of the Fragile Lives project?

In short, Fragile Lives aims to support two main sections of society: mothers and babies, across three major sectors: maternal care, general health and malnutrition. Malnutrition is a major problem in Pakistan, affecting all groups of society in the country, especially children. Approximately 50% of Pakistan’s children are stunted, which means their growth and development is severely affected due to a lack of good nutrition and balance in diet. Malnutrition among babies and children, especially within the first 1,000 days of life have severe consequences for their physical growth as well as their cognitive, emotional and intellectual development, which will affect their opportunities later on in life. We will be delivering screening services across the district of interior Sindh which will enable us to detect malnutrition and health issues among hundreds and thousands of mothers and babies, and be able to refer them to relevant health facilities or enrol them onto a treatment programme.

We will also be working with mothers and traditional birth attendants who currently do not have access to health facilities, and deliver babies at home. Childbirth away from a clean and sanitised hospital environment is very dangerous as the mother becomes prone to infection and disease, and without the support of a trained doctor, a traditional birth attendant is unable to deal with complications. We will be distributing safe delivery kits with clean delivery instruments, baby wraps, towels and sanitary pads, as well as vitamins for the mother. We will be working to offer training to traditional birth attendants to increase their knowledge and capacity, as well as improve their connections with local health facilities so they can encourage women to visit hospitals and clinics for prenatal and antenatal appointments.

We will also be establishing health facilities and training doctors, nurses and counsellors to be able to provide treatment for malnutrition, maternal health services to pregnant women and mothers, and child health services.

What sort of provisions are there already out there for mothers and babies?

In the areas we’re working in, health and nutrition service provisions are extremely rare. Interior Sindh, and Wajir in Kenya are both rural areas with very little infrastructure. Basic, local health facilities are still over an hour’s walk away for most people, and have a limited number of staff and insufficient resources to offer the support necessary. At the district level, and in cities, there are more adequate facilities, however these are several hours away for most people, and the cost of treatment is often too high. This means that for most people in interior Sindh and Wajir, good healthcare for everyone, but in particular mothers and babies, is not easily accessible and too expensive. Without any employment opportunities, people face major challenges in being able to afford good healthcare. The majority of babies are born at home and do not receive quality medical care before or after delivery, which can have major consequences as any illness or issues are not easily detected.

Can you share any experiences from the field?

I visited both project location sites, and was left absolutely devastated. I had visited Pakistan several times as a child and lived there for 2 years of my adult life, so I was aware of the issues and challenges that are being faced in the country. However, this was my first time visiting the district of Sindh, and the first time I was to explore the health situation of the country in any depth. The communities we are seeking to support have very little. The ongoing drought has depleted their food sources, and almost everybody can only eat one meal a day comprised of a basic bread and some red, dry chillies mixed in water. It is no surprise to learn that this region is ravaged by malnutrition, and most of the child deaths happen because of this. I met with many women who had lost babies during pregnancy or difficulties in childbirth. When women are malnourished, their bodies are not strong enough for them to carry full-term and this often results in premature deliveries of under-weight babies, or severe complications during labour which cannot be dealt with effectively without the support of a trained doctor. I met one woman who has lost 5 babies, either as still-born or within the first few days of their precious life. It was absolutely heart-breaking, as their conditions of poverty and a lack of access to health facilities meant they were not able to receive the quality care they needed in a timely fashion.

What is UK Aid Match and how does it work?

UK Aid Match is a match-funding grant from the government, where every time somebody donates to our Fragile Lives appeal, the UK government matches the donation £ for £ up to £2 million. This means every single donation will make double the impact and help us reach even more mothers and babies in Pakistan and Kenya.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

We know that we will not see drastic changes overnight, but this project carries a lot of hope and potential. Not only will we be working to reduce the devastating statistics we often hear about child and maternal mortality, but we will be working to tackle problems in attitudes around maternal health and child health in the communities we are working in. We will be working with members of the entire community to raise awareness about maternal and child health and the importance of quality medical care, nutrition and maternal health. These things will be difficult to measure, but will over time, cause an increase in the number of people using health services, practicing safe deliveries and attitude and efforts around nutrition. We hope to see a reduction in malnutrition, child mortality and maternal mortality and the occurrence of unsafe, life-threatening home deliveries.

If you wish to donate or find out more then please do look at the Penny Appeal site – https://pennyappeal.org/appeal/fragile-lives