Past bouts with hurricanes and other crises have revealed that in times of crisis, these odds can get even worse. And even if a baby and mother survive childbirth, the odds can be stacked against infants. UNICEF has found that one in four babies in Haiti are born underweight, and only about half are fully immunized against diseases such as measles, polio, and whooping cough.
Dr. Ligia Peralta, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, said that for most Haitian women who are delivering babies in the aftermath of this disaster, the prognosis is grim.
"Number one is the problem if premature delivery based on trauma," said Peralta, who herself has provided medical services in Haiti in the past. She added that these mothers may, in cases of natural disasters, already be injured. "Number two is going to be infection, which is very likely in this case."
And then there is the problem of maternal hemorrhage and bleeding in the course of delivery. With the Red Cross reporting shortages of medical supplies and equipment in the wake of the disaster, doctors on the ground may not have immediate access to even basic needs like sutures, sterile equipment and antibiotics.
In the case of massive bleeding during childbirth, Peralta said, the mothers "should have some sutures; if that's not available, doctors will be unable to stop the bleeding mechanically.
"Also, if blood supplies are not available, it will be very difficult to deal with these situations," Peralta said. "You can have the best and most skilled, well-trained physicians, but without the necessary tools and antibiotics to prevent infection, it will be very difficult to have the best outcome."
By Sunday afternoon, Moritz received the first few hopeful e-mail messages from Besser of the day. He and the 25-year-old woman were in an ambulance, en route to an Israeli field hospital that was set up in a Port-au-Prince soccer field near the airport on Friday evening. There they met the team of Israeli doctors, nurses and paramedics who had at their disposal a pharmacy, a children's ward, a radiology department, an intensive care unit, an emergency room, two operating rooms, a surgical department, an internal department -- and most importantly, a maternity ward.
Even better news followed -- an ultrasound suggested that the baby was not only still alive, but oriented head-first, suggesting a likelihood of a normal, non-surgical delivery.
And shortly after 6:00 p.m. on Sunday evening, the baby -- a girl -- was born. She was born premature, at only 32 weeks gestation, and weighed only 3 pounds, 15 ounces.
And even though the greatest threats to her health may now have passed, she still faces an uphill battle; aside from having experienced slow growth in the womb, she was born with a leg problem.
But doctors expect the leg problems to heal. The mother is doing well, despite having experienced preeclampsia, a leading killer of pregant women in Haiti, shortly before giving birth. And when Besser spoke with the doctor who delivered the baby, he said that the earthquake, ironically, likely saved the lives of both baby and mother.
"He said that had she delivered at home, both the mother and baby would have died," Besser said.