MEKELLE, Ethiopia — Dima Yehea's two-year-old son has large brown eyes and a sweet, carefree smile. He sits on his mother's lap wearing only an old T-shirt. Dima, dressed in a loose hospital gown, looks at me with intent, studious eyes. Her baby turns towards her, grabs her left breast with both hands and nurses for a few minutes. As the baby focuses on his meal, Dima concentrates on me, a Westerner in Ethiopia.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The first time Tadu Gelana's mother suggested she get married, Tadu thought she was kidding. Only 14 years old, Tadu had not yet finished school or had her first menstruation cycle. Tadu laughed at the suggestion. The second time her mother mentioned it, Tadu told her she wasn't interested.
Her mother did not relent.
Tadu's brother, who was about twice her age and had taken care of her for many years, had recently passed away. Tadu felt she should be grieving for the loss of her big brother, not preparing for a joyous wedding ceremony.
JIMMA, Ethiopia — When Zemzem Moustafa went into labor with her fifth child - at age 30 - she could sense a problem. Living in a thatched-roof hut in Ilebabo, a rural village in western Ethiopia, she and her husband walked to the local health post. A health extension worker there could tell that the baby was in the wrong position, but the worker could not help Zemzem and referred her to the hospital. And so Zemzem's journey began, one that ends in tragedy for thousands of women in Ethiopia each year.
Standing in the only operating room in the only medical hospital in all of Guinea-Bissau, Marco Vernaschi watched a nurse take an unsterile needle out of her pocket and, without anesthetic, suture a woman's vagina after a difficult childbirth. The woman screamed. Mr. Vernaschi took a photograph. Moments later, she was required to walk out of the filthy room and go home.
She was actually fortunate. So few women have any medical care in the west African country of Guinea-Bissau that the United Nations regards it as one of the world's most dangerous places to be pregnant.
Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest region on Earth, is a place where more than 600,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every year due to lack of proper care and only 30 percent of the population has access to health care at all. Photojournalist Marco Vernaschi is documenting the human costs, beginning with this work from Guinea Bissau.