Six Miles in Their Shoes

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Pregnant women in Tanzania trek 10 kilometers to reach the nearest clinic. Reta Graham challenges you to run or walk in their footsteps on May 7 in Asheville.

Every two minutes, a woman dies from pregnancy-related complications. Almost 99% of those women are from developing countries like Tanzania.unnamed-3Reta Graham wants to change that. An obstetrician and accomplished runner in Asheville, N.C., Graham has spent the past several years working to improve maternal health care in Tanzania. In 2013 and 2014, she spent several months in rural Tanzania providing medical care, often seeing 100 patients a day in a one-room school with little equipment or medicine.

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“I was stunned,” Reta recalls. “Women and children trekked for many miles to reach the makeshift clinic, and there was not a single blood pressure cuff or ultrasound machine.” Many of her patients were pregnant women who had not received even basic health care. Some women showed up in labor. “I learned firsthand that the biggest health disparity in today’s world is maternal health,” a figure confirmed by the World Health Organization.

It was a powerful experience that deepened her commitment to improving the lives of the women and children she served. After returning home to Asheville, Reta and her husband Jeff—also a physician and competitive runner—established Mama Maisha, a nonprofit working to improve maternal health care in rural Tanzania. They focus on the three pillars of maternal safety: healthy pregnancy, safe delivery, and family planning.

Their strategy is simple: train maternal health advocates in rural villages to educate, support, and empower women. These local advocates meet regularly with  women to educate them about healthy pregnancy and family planning, assist with checkups, and attend deliveries, whether at clinics or at home.

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To support their work, Mama Maisha is hosting the Mama’s Day 10K on May 7 at Asheville’s Carrier Park. The flat, fast, spectator-friendly course follows paved and gravel greenways along the French Broad River. “It’s one of the fastest 10K courses in the mountains—and also one of the most scenic,” says race director Jeff Graham.

All proceeds directly benefit Mama Maisha’s efforts to assist pregnant women and their children in rural Tanzania. A single race entry fee covers the cost of four safe birth kits that Mama Maisha’s community health workers provide to pregnant mothers, or can cover the salary of a maternal health advocate for two months. Jeff and Reta hope to raise enough money from the event to expand their services into three neighboring villages.

“Rarely do you have the opportunity to make your miles so meaningful,” says Reta. “Participants in the Mama’s Day 10K will literally be saving lives.”

For more information, visit mamamaisha.org or register here!

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