The Struggle to Survive to Five

If you have 45 minutes to spare this weekend, I highly recommend you watch this episode from a BBC World documentary called Survival – Fit For Life:

[UPDATE: If you want to watch the embedded version, just click the jump]

The program focuses on the challenges of childbirth in rural Bangladesh. After seeing this documentary, I began to better understand why Bangladesh’s child and infant mortality is fifty times worse than the developed world. It’s not just lack of access to medical facilities, medicine, and equipment – it’s also about educating people to move away from traditional beliefs.

In rural Bangladesh, traditionally, when a baby girl is born the placenta is buried inside the house. If it’s a boy, it’s buried outside. Why? Because they want the girl’s heart to stay at home and the boy to wander. But not all traditions are harmless – some do affect newborn’s chances of survival.

In traditional home birth situations, babies are usually given honey shortly after birth. It’s believed this will “sweeten the speech” of the child. The same goes for feeding – babies are usually fed cow’s milk the first few days instead of breast milk because they believe that will enhance the immunity of the child. And often after birth the baby’s arms and legs are tugged at in order to “stretch them out”.

I am really glad the BBC made this documentary. This is exactly the kind of stuff I couldn’t easily capture. Not only do I not have the filming and production resources of the BBC – but also, as a guy, there is also a gender barrier for me to capturing moments like these. I think producer/director Cassie Farrell and her film crew did a pretty even-handed and insightful job.

For more information on the Survival documentary series – you can check out their website.

9 Responses to “The Struggle to Survive to Five”


  1. 1 Hasan mahmud

    The story decsribed in your report about childbirth in rural Bangladesh is certainly a polemic, not very close to reality. Im from an extreme rural village in Bangladesh, and I cannot relate this story to my knowledge about childbirth in rural Bangladesh. Im not claiming that the whole story is febricated, but what I want to make a point is that it is too naive to generilize about childbirth in rural bangladesh from the story presented in the documentary.

    “to better understand why Bangladesh’s child and infant mortality is fifty times worse than the developed world” requires going to the real field without preconceptions about what to explore.

  2. 2 Hasan mahmud

    The story decsribed in your report about childbirth in rural Bangladesh is certainly a polemic, not very close to reality. Im from an extreme rural village in Bangladesh, and I cannot relate this story to my knowledge about childbirth in rural Bangladesh. Im not claiming that the whole story is febricated, but what I want to make a point is that it is too naive to generilize about childbirth in rural bangladesh from the story presented in the documentary.

    “to better understand why Bangladesh’s child and infant mortality is fifty times worse than the developed world” requires going to the real field without preconceptions about what to explore.

  3. 3 Shawn

    Hi Hasan – I’m not sure if you are familiar with this project. But I’ve gone into the “real field” and I definitely don’t have any preconceptions (in fact that’s part of the reason I call my project “uncultured”). While I’ve never had the opportunity to look into childbirth as in-depth as this documentar, as far as I can tell, they hit on a lot of truthful points.

    And, as a point of information, “being” from someplace doesn’t automatically mean you “know” a place. I’m constantly surprised how the well-to-do Bangladeshis I encounter in Bangladesh (the ones rich enough to access the internet, read blogs, watch YouTube videos, etc) are less aware of the poverty situation in Bangladesh than many foreigners.

    I sometimes feel that, if I had a dime for every time a Bangladeshi denied the poverty situation in Bangladesh or the hardship faced by those in extreme poverty in the country, this project would pay for itself 🙂

  4. 4 Shawn

    Hi Hasan – I’m not sure if you are familiar with this project. But I’ve gone into the “real field” and I definitely don’t have any preconceptions (in fact that’s part of the reason I call my project “uncultured”). While I’ve never had the opportunity to look into childbirth as in-depth as this documentar, as far as I can tell, they hit on a lot of truthful points.

    And, as a point of information, “being” from someplace doesn’t automatically mean you “know” a place. I’m constantly surprised how the well-to-do Bangladeshis I encounter in Bangladesh (the ones rich enough to access the internet, read blogs, watch YouTube videos, etc) are less aware of the poverty situation in Bangladesh than many foreigners.

    I sometimes feel that, if I had a dime for every time a Bangladeshi denied the poverty situation in Bangladesh or the hardship faced by those in extreme poverty in the country, this project would pay for itself 🙂

  5. 5 Zak

    I saw the video and it was pretty interesting. While I haven’t lived in Bangladesh in almost 15 years, and living in Dhaka you don’t really see all the things shown in video. I can’t truly say that I am at all surprised. When I was living in Bangladesh I was aware of these type of things going on at that time, in the rural villages. I think the most common problem is the ignorance of people, who just doesn’t know any better be it lack of education or doesn’t want to change. The video showed that pregnant women was being helped by the “Dhai” was able to deliver the baby(regardless of the weird things they did) and baby did survive. As long as there aren’t any major complication like in that video, people would always ignore hospital since they would have to pay for it. If it cost free or cheap as hell, people(some of the poorest people of a 3rd world country) would go for that option (Same analogy can be used for people downloading songs from net, if you can get it free, why pay for it and buy) probably not the best analogy but can be thought of that way. Except instead of music we are talking about lives there. I think videos of where pregnancies going wrong should be recorded and shown to some of the people around those rural area for maximum impact I think. One of the pregnant girl who went to the hospital, her mother in law had about 7 kids going to a “Dhai” didn’t have no problem, how do you convince someone like that in this day an age to go to hospital and make her believe it is safer? Sometimes people are hard headed especially from rural area, not susceptible to change when one way is already working (from what I can see on the video, whether right or not). They need to be smacked on the head literally with evidence that can be seen with eyes, like the guy lost his wife from bleeding and have someone like them as spokes person to pass on the message. Anyway that’s my two cents. Keep up the awsome job that you are already doing, I wanted to meet up with you(Shawn) this summer in BD but you never got back to me 🙁 . LOL. It’s ok thought, I still think you are doing a bang up job and hope you continue as long as you can.

  6. 6 James

    This kind of story is prevalent especially in third world countries and even among poorer nations. It didn’t surprise me because I have joined outreach programs and even missionary activities in my home country in the Philippines. Filipino women living in far-flung areas experience the same fate in childbirth. Traditional midwives or “hilot” in my country are the only hopes especially to those who do not have access to health care services. Herbal medicines are used instead of medicines that we used in our modern societies. Because of this, infant mortality rates and maternal deaths resulting from childbirth dramatically increase. The lack of available doctors and health care insitutions are the main reasons for this problem. Poverty especially in the rural zones continuous to threaten the health of the productive age. And those who suffer the most are women, pregnant and lactating. This in turn, result to extant mortality rates, birth defects and malnutrition.
    This video is very useful especially in conducting research and promoting awareness around the world. This serves as springboard in a wordlwide campaign to improve health services and in an effort to end global poverty.

  7. 7 James

    This kind of story is prevalent especially in third world countries and even among poorer nations. It didn’t surprise me because I have joined outreach programs and even missionary activities in my home country in the Philippines. Filipino women living in far-flung areas experience the same fate in childbirth. Traditional midwives or “hilot” in my country are the only hopes especially to those who do not have access to health care services. Herbal medicines are used instead of medicines that we used in our modern societies. Because of this, infant mortality rates and maternal deaths resulting from childbirth dramatically increase. The lack of available doctors and health care insitutions are the main reasons for this problem. Poverty especially in the rural zones continuous to threaten the health of the productive age. And those who suffer the most are women, pregnant and lactating. This in turn, result to extant mortality rates, birth defects and malnutrition.
    This video is very useful especially in conducting research and promoting awareness around the world. This serves as springboard in a wordlwide campaign to improve health services and in an effort to end global poverty.

  8. 8 FreeTrial

    Keep up the great work, I love your posts

  9. 9 FreeTrial

    Keep up the great work, I love your posts

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