There is a public health implication in everything we do in life. A beautiful tradition in my faith states that if one part of your body suffers, the rest of your body has to compensate. For that reason, I strongly believe in cultivating a strong heart, mind, body and soul connection. I am passionate about women’s health (check out Every Mother Counts) and fitness. I’m also on a journey to maintain a plant-based diet, but honestly with Pakistani roots (lots of naan and lots of meat), it is hard to make it happen all the time.
Some other goals you may see here are to run my fastest half-marathon, complete a triathlon and run a marathon for charity all before my 40th birthday! I have a couple of years to train for all of this…
As of July, 2014, I’m excited to announce that I am a Running Ambassador for Every Mother Counts
What does running have to do with maternal health?
We use marathons as fundraising/awareness raising opportunities because marathon distances (5K, 10K, 26.2 miles) are great metaphors for the average distances women in many developing countries have to travel, usually on foot, to reach basic and emergency healthcare during pregnancy and labor. Many times, distance and lack of transportation prevent women from reaching lifesaving care in time to save their lives. We began by fielding a team of 10 runners to participate in the NY marathon to raise funds and awareness and have since grown to the point where in 2013 we had 37,425 individuals run for EMC. No need to run a full marathon. EMC supporters walk and run 5ks, half marathons and many support EMC through their daily workouts. Runners, walkers and bikers can download CharityMiles on their smart phones and earn 15 to 25 cents/mile every time they exercise.
Why do mothers die?
The most common causes of pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths are hemorrhage, infection and cardiac/blood pressure conditions including preeclampsia. Other causes are related to co-conditions a mother might have during pregnancy like HIV/AIDS, malaria and anemia. The reasons why mothers die from these causes vary in different parts of the world. For instance, in the developing world, distance and lack of transportation restrict women’s access to healthcare. In the developed world, including the US, overuse of medical interventions puts women at risk. The cultural contributors for these reasons are complicated, but have to do with how women access healthcare, the status of women in various countries, harmful traditions like female genital cutting and child marriage, lack of access to reproductive health and family planning, un-safe/illegal abortion, and lack of emergency services, trained healthcare providers, healthcare facilities, and supplies.
This is not only an issue in the developing world. The U.S. currently ranks 50th in terms of maternal health meaning that it is safer to have a baby in 49 other countries. In the United States, where approximately 700-800 mothers die every year, lack of prenatal care or ability to access affordable healthcare, chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes in addition to high rates of C-sections that are not medically necessary play a role.
Ayesha Akhtar, MPH works as a community health educator for the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. She has written for Azizah Magazine, has had featured articles in locally-produced Chicago Crescent and Halal Consumer Magazine. She maintains the Project Self-Esteem blog for The Skinless Project and was a co-founder of HEART Women & Girls (HWG). Under the HWG brand she co-authored a blog on wellness & beauty for AltMuslimah.com. She is also an ACE Certified Personal Trainer. She lives in the Chicago metro area with her husband and two sons.