Four Born Every Second: Documentary chronicles four births in extreme poverty

With the maternal mortality rate at 287,000 annually worldwide, Ros Wynne-Jones reports on a problem both here in the West and developing countries

Hawa, 25, has just given birth to her fifth baby with the help of Mammie, a traditional birth attendant, in Bengie village, rural Sierra Leone. With a thatch of thick hair, and his mother’s almond eyes, baby Michael Brian has just survived the world’s worst statistics on neonatal and maternal mortality.

A few miles away across Bo District at the Gondama referral centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), obstetrician Dr Phillip de Almeida weeps into his hands. He has just delivered a stillborn child by caesarian section, and he knows the baby’s mother, Cadeta, has little chance of surviving the night. “We do what we can,” he says, quietly, but by morning, Cadeta has died.

This is the emotional rollercoaster of Four Born Every Second, a documentary that tonight chronicles the lives of four babies born into poor families in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, the United States and the UK – in a world where 287,000 women die giving birth each year. The launch film of a ground-breaking cross-media event across 70 broadcasters including the BBC, the Why Poverty project is screening the same eight documentaries across 180 countries during November. Each film will ask the same question: why, in the 21 century, do a billion people worldwide still live in poverty?

In Sierra Leone, Four Born Every Second also challenges the idea that high maternal mortality is inevitable in poor countries. A new Doctors Without Borders report released today shows the clinic featured in the documentary is making pioneering progress reaching the Millennium Development Goal on maternal mortality that UN countries signed up to in 2000.

MSF has been using a series of simple and cost-effective measures – including an ambulance referral system that transports pregnant women in need of emergency care to an MSF hospital where round-the-clock obstetric treatment is provided free of charge.

“This has reduced maternal mortality by an astonishing 75 percent at an estimated cost of just 1.7 euros per person,” says Dr de Almeida.

Throughout the film – beside which the jeopardy of the UK domestic original, One Born Every Minute pales – BAFTA-winning filmmaker Brian Hill reveals an international childbirth lottery beseiged by hostile statistics. At 25, Hawa has already lived half her life expectancy, in a country where there are only 200 doctors for six million people. Of the 20 worst places to be born in the world, 19 are in Africa. In Sierra Leone, 840 out of every 100,000 women die in childbirth. In Italy, that statistic is just four.

Things are little better for 36-year-old Neang, a pregnant mother from rural Cambodia with HIV. By pure geographical accident of birth, her children are more likely to grow up malnourished than attend high school. Divorced from the husband whose philandering infected her with HIV, Neang has a toddler daughter she adopted when her parents died, and a 12-year-old son, Pisey. “I just want my children to go to school,” she says. But Pisey also has to support the family by scavenging the streets for tins and plastic.

The two Western women in the film should be statistically better off, but face their own problems. The USA has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world – and the child born to Starr, from San Francisco, California, will be one of a staggering 1.6 million children currently homeless in the US. Describing herself as “poor, white trash”, without San Francisco’s Homeless Prenatal Programme, Starr would have no hope of clothing or eating enough to feed her newborn child. Statistically, her baby has a life expectancy of 78 years, but a one in three chance of becoming obese.

“I found the Third World right here in America,” says Martha Ryan, the Program’s Director. The problem of homeless families in the US is growing rapidly, she adds. “We began with 517 babies. Now there are 35,000 families to help.”

Finally, in the UK, where more than one in four families are led by a single parent, the film follows single mum Lisa, 22 as she prepares for the birth of her second child. Lisa’s son Finlay has the highest life expectancy of all four babies and could live to be 100. Meanwhile, Lisa’s problems are more practical than life-threatening. She is determined to escape a life on benefits, but faces childcare costs of £1400 a month for Finlay and her two-year-old, Grace.

Of all four women, Lisa is the happiest. “People might have more, but at the end of the day, I’m happy with what I’ve got,” says Lisa. “All I want is a roof, children and a job… I don’t live above my means, I’m just happy.”

Asked what she is looking forward to about the new baby Lisa says: “Someone to love and someone to love me back as much.” Meanwhile, in diamond rich Sierra Leone, Hawa hopes that by having many children, one might grow up to help her out of poverty.

Four Born Every Second airs tonight 10:35pm on BBC One as part of the Why Poverty? series

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit