In October 2009, Umm al Qaiwain's only maternity ward was closed for maintenance for more than three months, forcing expectant women to attend clinics in other emirates. While the Umm al Qaiwain Hospital did have a temporary unit, the story highlighted the paucity of facilities in some parts of the country. Certain areas, including sections of Al Gharbia, have no maternity care units at all.
Families across the country have long called for an improvement in standards even in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and it seems that their pleas are being listened to.
As The National reported yesterday, Corniche Hospital in Abu Dhabi is planning to launch a pregnancy awareness and care programme to ensure new families get the healthiest possible start in life.
"We want to start a pre-conception care programme to make sure that every woman who is thinking about pregnancy, every woman who gets married in Abu Dhabi or registers her marriage, will receive enough material to educate her on what she needs to do in order to prepare her body," said Amira Walli, the director of public health at Corniche Hospital.
While this should prove to be a worthwhile programme, it is a small step forward in what needs to be a nationwide improvement in the standard of medical care for pregnant women. Raising awareness through literature is a good start, but does not address the quality of maternity care and facilities. Long waiting hours and congested rooms are not what pregnant women expect in a country that has taken huge strides in health care over the last few years.
"Hungry, tired, aching and in discomfort for several hours is something I would equate to Third World health care," an expectant father - who understandably would not give his name - said of his wife's experience at a local hospital in October 2008. "For pregnant women in a wealthy country, I reckon it's unacceptable."
Conditions have improved since then, but at nowhere near the pace that other services and facilities in the country have. While the fight against deadly diseases like cancer and diabetes continues to grab headlines, it is vital that maternity care is not left behind. Providing the best possible health care for new families should be a national priority.