(Photograph by Sarah Bones) 

In an era when heart transplants are routine and 4 million people walk the earth because of in vitro fertilization, one woman still dies every minute from a pregnancy-related complication. Ninety percent of these deaths are preventable—but preventing them requires intervention, coordination, and money.

BRAC, the world’s largest nongovernmental development organization, is part of an international coalition intent on halving maternal deaths by 2015, a UN Millennium Development Goal. In January 2007, BRAC created the Manoshi Project, a community-based health program tasked with reducing maternal and child mortality in the urban slums of Bangladesh, where 8 million people live and where an estimated 80 percent of deliveries are conducted at home with no doctor in reach.

The Manoshi Project oversees urban delivery centers, or “birthing huts,” and provides a private, sanitary place for women to give birth assisted by traditional birth attendants and more than 80,000 BRAC-trained community health volunteers. That volunteer army has significantly reduced home births—down from 86 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2009—and maternal and infant deaths—down a quarter since 1972.

In 2011, Philadelphia-based photographer Sarah Bones went to Bangladesh to photograph the birthing huts and witnessed 17-year-old Fazila (above) endure a difficult labor—first in the birthing hut and later, when she failed to reach a hospital, on the floor of a stranger’s hut. Fazila was more than just one of the lucky ones. She was the recipient of smart, inexpensive health care.

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