By: Sharon D’Agostino, Vice President, Worldwide Corporate Contributions and Community Relations, Johnson & Johnson
My heart is different this Valentine’s Day, a day when many celebrate love. It has been touched by individuals transforming the world by caring for girls and women who, for many reasons, feel neglected and unloved. Writing Valentine notes over the past several days to people I love, my mind followed a path back to the work that my team and I are privileged to do at Johnson & Johnson, work with community-based partners dedicated to saving and improving the lives of women and children. The path began as I addressed a card to my parents and thought of a story that my aunt had told me several years ago. She said that my mother had been in labor for twenty hours in bringing me into this world. If my mother had been giving birth in a rural village outside Dar es Salaam or Addis Ababa, even today, without someone to finally help reposition her yet unborn child, my mother’s prolonged labor likely would have resulted in an obstetric fistula and her daughter would have died inside her. My mother’s good fortune, and mine, was that a nurse was present through most of her labor. Sadly, for millions of women around the world, this is not the case. According to UNFPA, only 40% of women in low resource countries give birth in a hospital or health center, and the World Health Organization reports that approximately 10 million women each year suffer injury, infection or disease from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. The absolute numbers are overwhelming and become even more so when we translate them to individual stories of suffering and loss.
Many individuals, organizations and governments are devoting resources to address the challenges of safe childbirth in low resource settings. My colleagues and I had the opportunity last week to spend time with an amazing and inspirational woman, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, and her team from the Addis Ababa Fistula hospital, an organization to which we make product and cash contributions. Over fifty years ago, Dr. Hamlin, an Australian gynecologist, traveled to Ethiopia with her late husband, Dr. Reginald Hamlin to establish a midwifery school. They never left. They committed their lives to helping the many neglected and forgotten women who had suffered fistula and in the years since, the doctors and staff of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital have treated more than 34,000 women and have trained visiting doctors from around the world in fistula repair. When asked why she and her husband never returned to Australia, Dr. Hamlin’s responded, “We were so touched by these girls, we couldn’t possibly leave them.”
This Valentine’s Day, I ask myself what I can personally do to help girls and women who feel disregarded and unloved. I can add my voice to those of many others working to increase awareness of girls and women suffering in silence and neglect, and I can contribute to organizations that devote their resources to helping them. It is a small difference, but it is a start.