6/07/2012 _at_ 10:26AM |2 views
New Research: Annual Maternal Mortality Worldwide Declines 47%
Recently, I interviewed Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)—the lead United Nations agency working to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential fulfilled.
In May, UNFPA, WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank released a new report, Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2010, which shows that the annual number of women who die in pregnancy or childbirth has dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000—a decline of 47 per cent.
Rahim Kanani: In your newest report on maternal mortality worldwide, what were some of the key findings, and did those findings surprise you?
Babatunde Osotimehin: Well, first and foremost, we are very pleased to see that the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990. The UN, including UNFPA and partners, has for decades been working with governments around the world to improve access to reproductive health, including voluntary family planning and maternal health. The new estimates for maternal deaths show that this effort is paying off.
Having said that, I want to emphasize that the progress made so far has been varied and, overall, not fast enough to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal deaths by 75 per cent before 2015.
Every day, almost 800 women still die in pregnancy or childbirth, and for every woman who dies 20 or more experience serious complications, like obstetric fistula. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the lifetime risk of maternal death for women is 1 in 39. In the US, it is 1 in 2,400. While in Sweden it is 1 in 14,100. This underscores the need for urgent and targeted investments in the hardest-hit countries. Our work at UNFPA must continue to make every pregnancy intended and every childbirth safe.
Rahim Kanani: Looking at the global landscape of this issue, which parts of the world have made the most progress, and which the least?
Babatunde Osotimehin: Substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, and 10 countries, including Vietnam and Nepal, have already reached the MDG target. Another nine countries, including Eritrea, Bangladesh and Lao People’s Democratic Republic are on track.
However, 40 countries have what we define as high maternal death rates, and Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia alone account for 85 per cent of all maternal deaths.
Chad and Somalia are the countries with the highest maternal death ratios at over 1,000 per 100,000 live births, and just two countries account for a third of all global maternal deaths: India, with 56,000 deaths, and Nigeria, with 40,000. This is in part due to the size of the populations of these two countries.
As a Nigerian, it is of course not pleasant to see that estimate, but luckily we can see that also in my home country the number of maternal deaths is declining, due to targeted investments in health. But we still have a long way to go.
Rahim Kanani: Health, education, economic opportunity and other issues are interconnected, so where does maternal mortality fit in this larger ecosystem?
Babatunde Osotimehin: The number of maternal deaths is often inversely proportional to girls and women’s status in the family and society, and evidence shows that the poorer the household, the greater the risk of maternal death. This is reflected in the great disparity in where women die in childbirth, both between and within countries.
Furthermore, there is also data that shows that the more education a woman gets, the lower the risk of dying while giving life, and the more likely that her newborn will reach his or her second birthday. Thus, it pays to invest in women’s reproductive health, rights and education, not just in order to lower maternal death and disability, but also for the ultimate general economic progress for families, communities, nations—and individual women themselves.
And if you will let me add: This is particularly relevant for adolescent girls!
Dying in pregnancy or childbirth is common among teenage girls in developing countries. However, when a girl gets an education, she has the power to delay her first pregnancy, and she is healthy and equipped with the right skills and opportunities; she holds the key to unlocking many of the opportunities the world has to offer and this ultimately leads to a reduction in maternal and child deaths, halting the spread of HIV, breaking the cycle of poverty, advancing gender equality and propelling countries’ social and economic development. As educated mothers, they will invest in the health, education and success of the next generation.
UNFPA works to bring on that positive change and make sure that the potential of every young person, particularly adolescent girls, is fulfilled.
Rahim Kanani: What kind of collaborative action is needed to address these ills in a holistic manner?
Babatunde Osotimehin: Global problems need global solutions. We need to focus on the individual’s rights and well-being. This is not something that can be fixed from the meeting rooms in capitals or New York. This is about people and will take the effort of all—at all levels—to change. We have to act decisively on the ground in countries to effect changes in the daily lives of women and young people. This is a collaborative effort.
UNFPA is the lead UN agency for sexual and reproductive health, and under the umbrella of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health and the Every Woman, Every Child movement we work with sister UN agencies (under the auspices of the H5— a group of five UN agencies working together to support countries as they strengthen their health systems to provide better maternal and newborn health services), UN Member States, corporations and civil society partners to tackle the underlying causes of ill health.
The goal of this movement is to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015 and improve the lives of millions more. This is an unprecedented effort and it has helped rocket the issue of maternal health to the top of the international development agenda in just a few years.
Maternal health has to stay at the top of the political and development agenda, and action has to be taken on the ground in the countries where the women live and die.
Rahim Kanani: What are the most promising interventions to reduce the number of women around the world dying in childbirth, and what are the barriers to implementing this practice where it’s most needed?
Babatunde Osotimehin: Every two minutes, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth. The good news is that we know exactly what to do to prevent it: improve access to voluntary family planning, invest in health workers with midwifery skills, and ensure access to emergency obstetric care and other life-saving products like blood, antibiotics etc. when complications arise. These interventions have saved lives over and over again. It is also significant to note that increased access to antiretroviral therapy is starting to make a difference in the number of maternal deaths in countries with high HIV prevalence.
In addition to directly health-oriented interventions, we need to promote equality between men and women, ensure human rights and education—including sexuality education—for young people and adolescents, as well as the elimination of child marriage and coercion.
And let me emphasize this: Today, more than 215 million women in the developing world lack access to modern contraceptives. Meeting the need for voluntary family planning for these women would not only fulfill a basic human right, it would also reduce the number of maternal deaths by a third. This is a highly cost-effective public health strategy that is also sound economics.
We face various challenges and barriers, none of which we can’t overcome if we all work together and the countries truly prioritize this. It requires the involvement of all, and it requires that this is not seen as a women’s or a health issue only. It is a development issue, and the involvement of both men and women, developed and developing countries alike is imperative.
Rahim Kanani: Is it possible to ultimately rid the world of maternal mortality?
Babatunde Osotimehin: We could rid the world of the great majority of maternal deaths with appropriate and timely medical care and solutions we already know. It is within our reach to make dying in childbirth if not a thing of the past, then at least as rare an occasion in developing countries as it is in the richer parts of the world. No woman should die giving life.
Have an idea for a great interview on social change? Email me at rahim_at_rahimkanani.com. To learn of future postings, follow me _at_rahimkanani and subscribe to my updates on Facebook.
Received on Thu Jun 07 2012 - 12:27:39 EDT