Call for action on maternal mortality

2009-10-06 12:37

LEADING maternal health experts have called for renewed action in

the fight against maternal mortality, which kills an estimated 500,000 women

world-wide every year.

This emerged on Monday at the 19th Congress of the International

Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians (FIGO) being held at the Cape

Town International Convention Centre.

The conference, which is assessing progress in reducing maternal

mortality worldwide, opened on Sunday and ends this Friday.

While progress had been made in reducing maternal mortality, some

sub-Saharan African countries had seen an increase in their rate due to

HIV/Aids. There is still a long way to go, said FIGO president Dr Dorothy Shaw

during a press briefing held on Monday.

According to the August 2009 edition of the International Journal

of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, the estimated number of maternal deaths was

“almost unchanged” since 1990, falling by a global average of less than 1%

annually between 1990 and 2005.

In sub-Saharan Africa the number had declined by only 0.1%.

The biggest causes of maternal deaths are severe bleeding and

infection after birth, unsafe abortions, obstructed labour and complications

caused by diseases such as HIV/Aids and malaria.

Shaw said there was a need to invest in health and human rights for

women and young people, provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health

information, tackle discrimination against women, ensure access to education and

advance gender equality.

Meanwhile, panellists at the event said difficulties experienced in

tackling maternal mortality included conservative outlooks, budget shortfalls

and lack of political will.

United Nations Population Fund executive director Thoraya Ahmed

Obaid said girls as young as 12-years-old were having babies and therefore it

was not only the medical aspects of the problem that needed to be considered,

but also the social dimensions in terms of policies that kept girls in school

and prevented early marriages.

Obaid said a trend of conservatism in some countries was also a

concern as people resisted what they saw as an outside agenda being imposed on

them. Change needed to come from within communities.

Obaid also raised questions about budgets for maternal mortality,

with politicians needing to understand the issue so that money could be

allocated for resources such as staff and equipment.

Shaw said it was also important to understand the role that

religion and culture played in societies in promoting health care access as “we

need to be sensitive in how we work with community and religious leaders on

these issues, so that women can fully realize their rights as agreed upon by

their nations”.

He said “a huge gap” still existed because women were not aware of

practices to prevent them from dying as these were often not communicated at

community level.

She said the challenge was therefore to evaluate policies that

promoted the health of women and then to understand how these policies were

translated on the ground.

This had to be done taking into consideration the rural or urban

context of woman’s lives and the ability of women to access reproductive health


– West Cape News

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