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Saving new lives by spreading knowledge

Doris Kangolo is just days away from giving birth.

She looks tired and her feet are painfully swollen, but it could be worse. In the past Doris had to trek for miles to hospital on foot or by bike while heavily pregnant.

Today she is resting in the comfort of the Fiwale Maternity Waiting House, which provides a safe and restful place for women to await the births of their babies.

"I live about 10 kilometres from the nearest clinic," Doris says. "During my previous six ­pregnancies I came to the clinic by bicycle to deliver my children. That was very painful."

In many respects Doris is luckier than many women in Zambia. Those who live even more remotely cannot even make it to a health facility on time, with some living more than 60 miles from their nearest hospital.

These women are frequently forced to give birth at home in unsterile conditions and with little assistance.

Many women are prevented from giving birth safely owing to traditional beliefs and myths around assisted labour. It is hardly surprising that Zambia suffers from an excessively high maternal mortality rate of 591 deaths per 100,000 births.

A Safe Motherhood Action Group set up in Doris's community of Masaiti district, in Zambia's central Copperbelt Province, gives her and women like her the knowledge and access needed for a safe birth. The group comprises local volunteers who support pregnant women by promoting safe ante-natal care and referring women and babies for specialist care when needed.

Pregnant women are welcomed at the Fiwale Maternity Waiting House, which is run with support from Unicef and the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia, and are allowed to stay with a caregiver for up to four months before giving birth. It's just a few metres from the local health centre.

While the Ministry of Health in Zambia recommends that all rural health centres must have a mothers' shelter, the Fiwale Maternity Waiting House is currently the only one operational in Doris's district.

Since Safe Motherhood Action Groups have been established, the district has seen a drop in the number of babies and mothers dying. "We've scored tremendous success in reducing post-natal haemorrhage, mothers are registering early for antenatal care, and we've reduced the number of maternal complications," says Joseph Musonda, the Ministry of Health's planning manager for Masaiti district.

With your help, the Fiwale ­Maternity Waiting House and local Safe Motherhood Action Group, plus many more like these in surrounding districts, can be supported to offer mothers like Doris a safe place to give birth and the best possible start for their babies.

The Herald and Sunday Herald Children of the Commonwealth series will run over the coming months as the Queen's Baton travels the world on its way to Scotland. As well as bringing our readers inspiring stories from key locations on the baton route, we're also raising money for Unicef, an official charity partner of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. There are a number of different ways to donate: you can call 0800 044 5777; or you can click on unicef.org.uk/herald; or you can text 'CHILD' to 70111 to donate £3. If you prefer, there is a coupon in the Saturday Herald magazine and in the Sunday Herald. Unicef is the world's leading children's organisation, working to save and change children's lives.

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