Maternal mortality gets a mention

I’ve just had a glance through Oxfam’s new book ‘From Poverty to Power’. It is a whopping 522 pages (including index etc.)! An impressive amalgamation of researched information arguing that active citizens and effective states are the key to building a peaceful, prosperous and just world.

True to Oxfam’s usual polished marketing they have a video that makes you want to get out and be an even more active citizen than you already might be.

Of course, I flicked straight to the section on ‘HIV, AIDS and Other Health Risks’. Apart from my initial negative reaction that HIV got named, while everything else was lumped under ‘other’, the section provides a pretty good overview summary of the health issues confronting poorer countries (many of which still have applicability in richer countries too). And I was wrapped to see the much neglected issue of maternal mortality get a solid mention.

In Ireland, as the book points out, the lifetime risk of a woman dying due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 47, 600 in Ireland. In Niger the risk is 1 in 7. (A little closer to home: in NZ the risk is 1 in 5,900; in Australia it is 1 in 13,300; in PNG it is 1 in 55. Sourced from UNICEF State of the World’s CHildren report, 2008.)

The inequality is staggering. And then add to it that almost all maternal deaths are preventable – we know what to do and have done for a very long time. The problem is the lack of effective states. Where is the political will and commitment to improving women’s health? And it isn’t just lacking from poorer countries either – all those donor countries certainly haven’t been prioritising safe motherhood as a key funding priority.  As ‘Poverty to Power’ points out,  the fact that immunisation rates and access to water and sanitation have improved in poor countries shows what can be achieved when states wants to achieve it.

And it is not just about saving the lives of 500,000 women every year, although that is a totally important goal in and of itself. For every woman who dies, about 20 others experience serious or long-term consequences that impact on their well-being. And then there are their children. The health of children is inextricably linked to the health of their mother. New information emerges all the time to highlight this – even a woman’s nutritional status before she gets pregnant can have an impact on their potential foetus and future child’s health. Children who loose their mother are more likely to die than those who have a mother. Girls who do not have a mother are less likely to go to school. There are huge community-wide benefits to ensuring that for all women, where-ever they live, they do not have to face a risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth greater than 1 in 47,600.

OK. Enough for now. There is much more to say on this topic but that book is long, and I am quite keen to read about some areas that I’m not quite so familiar with.

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One response to “Maternal mortality gets a mention

  1. It is really interesting isn’t it. And shocking. Did you know that till I came to NZ it had never occurred to me that women should go to hospital to have a baby. In Holland babies are born at home – pregnancy and childbirth isn’t seen as a ‘medical issue’.

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