Birth Shouldn't Mean Death: Maternal Mortality in Low Resource Countries
Around the world women continue to die while giving life. It is shameful that an experience so natural and vital can be such a horrific adventure for the approximately 287,000 women who die in pregnancy or in childbirth around the world each year. When looking at the numbers, there exists a clear relation between poverty and unsafe pregnancy, as 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world.
While hundreds of thousands of women die, many more experience morbidity that can drastically impact their quality of life. For every woman who dies in childbirth, 20 suffer from debilitating conditions such as obstetric fistula or other injuries to the vaginal tract. Approximately 15 percent of all pregnancies have potentially life threatening complications that call for skilled care, highlighting the moral obligation to get involved and do more for the most disadvantaged women of the world.
The death of a woman, the myriad losses
What is the impact of losing more than 800 women each day to childbirth? These women are mothers, sisters, partners, daughters and colleagues, who make valuable contributions to the lives of those around them.
When women die, the health and productivity of a nation suffers. In countries where maternal mortality rates are highest, women are the usually primary caregivers for children and maintain the order of daily life. When women die, children are often left vulnerable. A child with a dead or ill mother is less likely to attend school or to receive health care. This is particularly true for daughters. A motherless child is also four times more likely to die than a child whose mother is still alive.
‘Invest in Women, It Pays’
Recent emphasis has been placed on the economic value of women and how the loss of women’s lives negatively impacts a country’s economy, creating a serious pitfall for that country on the road to development. Statistics demonstrate that the total value of women’s unpaid house and farm work is equal to one third of the global Gross National Product. Research also reveals that women’s incomes go towards food, education, medicine and other family needs, a direct investment in the family’s well being. According to numbers from the Women Deliver conference, the annual global economic impact of maternal and newborn mortality is a $15 billion US loss in potential production each year.
An Issue of Sexual and Reproductive Rights
Maternal death is not simply a medical story. A vital contributing factor in maternal mortality is a lack of sexual and reproductive rights. When women’s lives are prioritized and their rights are protected, we see a rapid decline in maternal mortality. When there is political will and when value is placed on women’s lives, maternal mortality can be more or less eradicated.
Some current practices that violate sexual and reproductive rights include female genital cutting, child marriage, rape and sexual violence, forced sterilization or abortion, unwanted pregnancy or marriage, lack of education about how to protect oneself from sexually transmitted infections, and much more. Maternal mortality is a direct result of the violation of these rights.
We have the answers.
Maternal death is preventable. We have the medical knowledge and means for prevention. Mobilizing political will and promoting sexual and reproductive rights are crucial to helping women access the services necessary to ensure a safe birth. At the international level, there are three pillars of maternal health promoted as effective answers to maternal mortality:
- Access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including family planning, antenatal and postnatal check ups, sexual health information etc.
- Access to skilled care during and immediately after childbirth. This refers to a skilled midwife, nurse or doctor who is trained in emergency obstetric care.
- Access to emergency care when life-threatening complications develop. This includes the ability to reach a health care facility within a reasonable time frame in case of a complication such as post partum hemorrhage or the need for a cesarean section and also that, upon arrival, adequate health supplies and medical personnel will be able and equipped to provide the emergency care the woman needs.
Where there is a will there is a way. We have the knowledge and the means to prevent women from dying while giving life.
Photo by Dr. Jean Chamberlain