Thursday, November 1, 2007

Women and childbirth

The report by the Global Conference on Maternal Health (UNICEF) has pointed to the alarming rate of maternal death in developing and least developed countries:

Each year an estimated 536,000 women die needlessly from pregnancy and childbirth complications — such as hemorrhage, obstructed labor and infections — or in the simple act of giving birth. Ninety–nine per cent of those women die in the developing world. For example, in sub–Saharan Africa — which accounts for half of all maternal deaths — women have a 1 in 22 chance of
dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications.
In Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, pregnancy is even riskier,
killing one in eight women, and in Niger an estimated one
in seven women dies from complications related to
pregnancy and childbirth.

Regardless of their country of origin, at least 15 per cent of all
pregnant women around the world will experience a life–threatening
complication. Their survival will depend on access to quality health care and emergency interventions. Maternal mortality has virtually disappeared as a problem for those who have access to quality health care in wealthy nations and communities, where the lifetime risk of maternal mortality is as low as 1 in 8,000.

Yet the mothers of the developing world — where there is limited access to quality medical care, reproductive education and emergency interventions — continue to die in unacceptable numbers. These numbers are a reflection not only of their lack of medical care, but of their status in society. A woman who is better educated about her health and childbirth options, who is able to make decisions for herself and her household, and who is treated as an equal member of society has a far greater chance of survival. So, in turn, do her children.

Of course, the status in society dictates much of what happens to women. If women are regarded as inferior creatures, whose very existence is to give birth and perhaps even die during childbirth, then there will be little incentive to improve this condition, because most statesmen in the world are men. Women do not get to make decisions at the state level most of the time. While education of women and grass-roots is crucial, it is not sufficient because top-down approach is essential in curbing this problem. The only hope is that through vociferous international organizations the governments will be forced to fundamentally adjust their treatment of women.

Certainly, we also need to remember that poverty is the biggest challenge. Most of these countries do not have enough resources or the means to alleviate this condition. While social prejudice and lack of attention are at the crux of it, poverty is the major barrier to any improvement.

(For poverty statistics see the report by the UN Development Programme here and here).

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