By Rachael Bletchly, (Mirror): Sitting outside a humble dwelling in an isolated village high up in the Himalayas, Myleene Klass is chatting with young mum Sushma about her baby boy.
Sushma, 20, pulls out a battered mobile and shyly shows the TV star a single photo of her tiny son, Rhythm.
But when Sushma asks Myleene if she has children of her own the former pop star and TV presenter can only nod as the tears begin to flow.
Proud mum Myleene cannot bring herself to show off the scores of photos on her own phone of daughters Ava, seven, and Hero, three.
For Sushma has just described in heartbreaking detail how her two-week old baby died in her arms – because she could not afford his hospital treatment.
Myleene, 36, who has been visiting Nepal as an Ambassador for Save the Children, explains: “Sushma gave birth at home but realised Rhythm was very unwell so she walked for hours to reach the nearest hospital.
“He had pneumonia, but in Nepal a day in hospital costs a month’s salary so after eight days Sushma had no choice but to take Rhythm home.
“A few days later, as she was breast feeding, she looked down and realised he had gone. Her dad took the baby up into the
hills and burned him. Sushma was clearly still in shock and said this was the first time she’d really talked about it.
“Her friends and family told her to delete her photos of the baby or she wouldn’t be able to move on. But she had one tiny photo saved as the contact image next to her mum’s number. So now, every time her mum rings, Rhythm’s picture flashes up.
“As a mum myself that just broke my heart. I have so many pictures of my girls on my phone but I couldn’t bring them out and show her. I couldn’t do it.”
Myleene was in Nepal to promote Save The Children’s “No Child Born to Die” campaign, which is battling to stop children dying from preventable illnesses.
Today the charity publishes a report revealing 28 countries with inadequate health systems are at risk of an Ebola-style epidemic – jeopardising the future of millions of children. It says prevention is better than cure, and that the £2.8billion spent on Ebola relief in West Africa could have been saved if £1.05billion had been used to improve health services there.
Nepal’s health system is worse than those of Ebola-ravaged Sierra Leone and Liberia, and vulnerable to an infectious disease epidemic on a similar scale. It spends just £21 per person on healthcare, compared with £1,833 in the UK, with one health worker for every 1,400 people, while the UK has one for every 88.
And in the poverty-stricken Himalayan villages Myleene met mothers whose children are dying needlessly from birth complications and easily preventable illnesses because of a lack of affordable care.
The former Hear’Say singer, who has previously travelled to Bangladesh and the Philippines with Save the Children, explains: “Nepal is stunningly beautiful – it looks like paradise.
But up in the mountains I was struck by just how cut off we were. People might envy the tranquillity but the isolation causes huge problems for women and their babies.
“Hospitals are a day’s walk away and the nearest health posts half a day. Heavily pregnant women have to walk for seven hours or more up and down mountains which were a challenge even in a 4×4.
So many don’t make it and end up giving birth on the roadside. And then those babies just don’t make it.
“If a woman can’t walk then a group of men will carry her in one of the baskets they use to gather the harvest – not much bigger than laundry baskets.
“Imagine being stuck in there for hours and hours, in labour, getting jolted down the side of a mountain. Some women actually give birth in the baskets and then the babies suffocate.”
Even if they do make it to a health centre, and can afford to pay, mums-to-be are not guaranteed to get the care they need. Myleene was horrified by what she found at one “maternity unit” she visited.
She says: “The labour ward looked more like a slaughterhouse filled with the stench of stale blood.
“There was blood on the walls and in buckets at the bottom of the beds. Every time I drew breath it was suffocating. It was the smell of death. This is where women are supposed to bring life into the world… how do they do it?
“I thought back to where I gave birth in a fully-equipped, sterile hospital, with my favourite music, candles, and my family there. These women have no choices. They are on their own.”
Myleene met another mum, Shamila who lost her first two babies. One, born at home, died within hours from birth complications. When she went into labour with her second child she was carried down the mountain to hospital.
Her son was not breathing at birth and there was no resuscitation equipment. The midwife revived him but he died a short time later.
“If they’d had basic equipment and incubators, who knows?” says Myleene.
“My brother Don was born two and a half months prematurely. My mum Magdalena went into labour at home and my dad delivered the baby, who came out blue.
“I was only four but I remember hearing the ambulance. Mum was wheeled out with my brother in a shoe box, wrapped in a petticoat.
“He made it because he got to the hospital where there were incubators and nurses and help. In Nepal women are alone and helpless.”
Myleene is determined her daughters will grow up “knowing they live in an international community and we have to help each other”.
She says: “I picked a couple of glittery rocks out of a river and took them back to Ava and Hero.
“They took them in to school and explained Nepal was really pretty but there were lots of babies who got very sick and their mamas need help. Hearing it explained so simply makes you realise people can make a difference.”
Since 1990 the number of children dying from preventable causes around the world has halved from 12 million to 6.3 million.
Save The Children believes all such deaths can be prevented by 2030 and wants the Government to take the lead by lobbying other world leaders at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September.
Myleene says: “Everyone can sign our online petition and get behind this vital campaign to save children’s lives.”
Save the Children is making big changes in Nepal through simple measures. After the horrors of the labour ward at Trishuli District Hospital, Myleene visited a health post supported by the charity.
There she met Sharla, 34, an auxiliary midwife who said she had to hold a torch in her mouth so she could see what she was doing when delivering babies in the dark. Myleene says: “We gave her a very basic lamp and she was absolutely delighted.
“Another simple device making a huge difference is the Foot Length Card. It has a picture of a baby’s footprint on and new mothers can hold their babies up to it to check they’re a healthy size. If they are too small they can ring a free number for advice on care.”
Myleene was thrilled to learn that Sushma, who lost little Rhythm, now has a healthy daughter, Rakhsya.
So if Myleene returns to Nepal they may be able to share photos of their healthy, happy children after all.
:: My girls: Myleene with daughters Ava and Hero
:: Caring: Myleene with a newborn in hospital
:: Light work: Sharla shows off her torch
:: Brother: Magdalena with her premature baby Don
:: Helping hands: Myleene with young mum Sushma
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